Resistance is Utile: Critchley responds to Zizek (Harper’s Review, May 2008)

For what it’s worth, and ‘cos I mentioned it previously, I thought I might as well post the letter Simon Critchley sent to Harper‘s regarding Slavoj Žižek’s review of his latest treatise, Infinitely Demanding. The review, along with a response by David Graeber, can be read here.

Here ’tis (by way of Eric H):

Letter to Harper’s Magazine, May 2008

Oddly enough when I read Slavoj Žižek’s critique of my book Infinitely Demanding ["Resistance is Surrender", Readings, February], a copy of Lenin’s State and Revolution was sitting on my desk at home. One of the striking features of Lenin’s text is that for all the venom he spews at liberals, social democrats and the bourgeoisie, it is nothing compared to what he reserves for his true enemy, the anarchists.

As Carl Schmitt reminds us — and we should not forget that this fascist jurist was a great admirer of Lenin’s — there are two main traditions of non-parliamentary, non-liberal left: authoritarianism and anarchism. If Žižek attacks me with characteristically Leninist violence for belonging to the latter, it is equally clear which faction he supports. Žižek begins his essay by listing various alternatives on the left for dealing with the behemoth of global capitalism. This list initially seems plausible — indeed some of it appears to have been lifted unacknowledged from the conclusion of my book — until one realizes what it is that Žižek is defending; namely, the dictatorship of a military state.

In State and Revolution, Lenin cleverly defends the state against anarchist critiques in favor of its replacement with a form of federalism. He appears to agree with anarchists in stating that we should destroy the bourgeois state, then subsequently asserts that a centralized workers’ state should be implemented in its stead. The first notion is faithful to Marx and Engel’s idea of the withering of the state, but Lenin diverges from their line of thinking when he argues that this can only be achieved through a transitional state (somewhat laughably called “fuller democracy” by Lenin in one passage and “truly complete democracy” in another). Lenin sees an authoritarian interlude as necessary in order to realize the possibilities of communism, but as history has shown, this “interlude” was a rather long and bloody one.

For authoritarians such as Lenin and Žižek, the dichotomy in politics is state power or no power, but I refuse to concede that these are the only options. Genuine politics is about the movement between these poles, and it takes place through the creation of what I call “interstitial distance” within the state. These interstices are neither given nor existent but created through political articulation. That is, politics itself is the invention of interstitial distances. I discuss various examples of this phenomenon, such as civil-society groups and indigenous-rights movements in Mexico and Australia, in Infinitely Demanding. I would now also mention Bolivian President Evo Morales, who is directly answerable to certain social movements in his country. I am even sympathetic to the alternative-globalization and antiwar movements so despised by Žižek for their alleged complicity with established power, because, despite their flaws, they remain crucial to the articulation of a new language of civil disobedience. In the coming decades, as we experience massive and unstoppable population transfers from the impoverished south to the rich north, we will require this language to address the question of immigrant-rights reform in North America and Europe.

For Žižek, all of this is irrelevant; these forms of resistance are simply surrender. He betrays a nostalgia, which is macho and finally manneristic, for dictatorship, political violence, and ruthlessness. Once again, he is true to Lenin here, as when the latter calls for the bourgeoisie to be “definitively crushed” by the violent armed forces of the proletariat. Listen to Žižek’s defence of Chávez’s methods, which must be “fully endorsed”:

Far from resisting state power, [Chávez] grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals. Furthermore, he is militarizing the barrios and organizing the training of armed units there. And, the ultimate scare: now that he is feeling the economic effects of capital’s “resistance” to his rule (temporary shortages of some goods in the state-subsidized supermarkets), he has moved to consolidate the twenty-four parties that supported him into a single party.

Here we observe the basic obsessive fantasy of Žižek’s position: do nothing, sit still, prefer not to, like Melville’s Bartleby, and silently dream of a ruthless violence, a consolidation of state power into one man’s hands, an act of brutal physical force of which you are the object or the subject or both at once. Perhaps I should remind Zizek, who considers himself a Lacanian, of what Lacan said to the Leninist students who heckled him at Vincennes in December 1969: “What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one.”

There is a serious debate to be had with Žižek about the question of violence, the necessity of the state, and the evolution of radical politics, given the seeming permanence of capitalism. Perhaps when Žižek gets beyond windy rhetorical posturing and his misapprehension of my position as “post-modern leftism” (I defy anyone to find a word in favor of postmodernism in anything I have written), we can begin to have that debate. I am not holding my breath.

Simon Critchley
The New School for Social Research
New York City

Oh yeah… I just discovered that Counago & Spaves already done gone published Critchley’s letter.

Grrr.

Anyway… Dunno if I agree with Critchley entirely on the question of whether or not, and to what extent, Lenin, “when he argues that [the withering of the state] can only be achieved through a transitional state”, actually departed from the road Marx and Engels set out on. For example:

“…no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle of the classes, and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: 1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production; 2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.” ~ Marx in a letter to Weydenmeyer (1852)

I’m also not convinced that “Bolivian President Evo Morales… is directly answerable to certain social movements in his country”; the relationship between President and people seems a little more conflictual than this might suggest. On the other hand, Morales’ government appears to have acted quite differently with regards grassroots social movements than the Chávistas have, and the anarchist content of these movements in Bolivia also appears to be reasonably strong (see ‘Anarchism and Indigenous Resistance in Bolivia: Interview with Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui’, October 16, 2007). Certainly, Morales is yet to blame ‘anarchists’ for ‘terrorist’ acts, which is what the Venezuelan government did in February. (On Bolivia, see also Mujeres Creando; on Venezuela, El Libertario).

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2015 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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23 Responses to Resistance is Utile: Critchley responds to Zizek (Harper’s Review, May 2008)

  1. grumpy cat says:

    Thanks @ndy. Good to see a real debate happening on some important questions – and he does nail Zizek’s bluster. However Critchley’s alternative articulated in ‘Infinitely Demanding’ gives up on the idea of complete social change and rather articulates only a form of non-state reformism. In this sense it leaves Zizek’s argument, that if you want to abolish capitalism you need to seize power with the ‘Act’ that changes the political-ideological quilting point of society, untouched. Zizek needs a critique from the Left… (which by the way I am working on… talk about product placement!).

    rebel love
    Dave

  2. THR says:

    When Zizek is expounding on Lacan, or 19th German Idealist philosophy, he can be pretty insightful. The thing is, however, that one does not become an ‘intellectual celebrity’ by sticking to these topics. Consequently, Zizek turns his attention to politics and other areas where he can ruffle a few feathers.
    I’m not sure how seriously we are supposed to take Zizek’s political positions. He certainly doesn’t offer any clear political prescriptions, preferring instead to hide behind the role of the ‘great problematiser’ (to borrow a description I read on another blog).
    My feeling is that all of this hostility to liberalism is a pose, and perhaps even a defense (in a psychoanalytic sense), as in many ways, Zizek is the quintessential cosmopolitan, bourgeois intellectual. Calling for ‘Leninist intolerance’ may well bait liberal-leftists (among others), but it is something of an empty gesture. It avoids completely any real question of what this ‘intolerance’ might look like in practice.
    For all that, I still think that Zizek’s critiques of liberal bourgeois philosophy/politics have some value. It’s simply that he doesn’t offer a way out of the morass.
    Critchley is correct to cite Lacan’s statement, which was uttered in the context of the famous Parisian uprisings. Psychoanalysis can produce a ‘radical’ critique of this or that, but it was never intended to be instrumentalised to the service of this or that political position.

  3. @ndy says:

    Hey THR,

    I’ve read a little Žižek, but not much. Dunno what language he normally writes in, but in English he certainly knows how to engage in some rather spectacular literary pyrotechnics; which are certainly engaging and — in addition to his broad-ranging interests, especially in mass or pop culture — presumably goes some way to explaining his popular appeal. Beyond that, I dunno. Maybe it’s like what Emma Goldman said: A society gets all the philosophers it deserves.

    And yeah, controversy. I just can’t believe all the things people say. Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me? Lenin: Revolutionary Genius or Social Frankenstein? Žižek: Wanker or what?

    Regarding whether or not he’s serious… Who really knows? Whatever his possible psychological motivations for expressing certain political positions, however, I don’t agree that it implies not addressing real questions. In the context of contemporary social struggles in Venezuela, Žižek’s support for Chávez I think goes some way towards illuminating where a pop philosopher’s demented love of power can lead. In any case, to the extent that it does, and however broad this may be, it’s not unreasonable to hold Žižek to account. Further, given his popularity, it may require further de-mystification of Lenin and his political legacy. ‘Leninist intolerance’ continues to have real effects.

    More later…

  4. THR says:

    Quilting is the English rendering of Lacan’s point de capiton, which is an analogy describing how signification is ‘anchored’, and prevents psychosis:

    ‘The point de capiton is thus the point in the signifying chain at which “the signifier stops the otherwise endless movement of the signification” and produces the necessary illusion of a fixed meaning.’ – Dylan Evans, Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis

    The problem of Chavez is possibly not the best way to assess Zizek, since there are as many views on Chavez as there are political positions. Certainly, on the left, the nature of his leadership is contested.

    I think Zizek starts with a critique of many conservative and ‘liberal’ positions, and finds fault with them philosophically, politically, or using psychoanalytic concepts. So he quickly disposes of deconstructionism, and attempts to ground ethic in ‘differance’ and the other. Habermasian ‘communicative action’ falls by the wayside, as do sociological/medical accounts of behaviour, and the endlessly pilloried notion of ‘tolerance’. In all of this, his critique is convincingly argued, but there’s nothing in this critique that implies a positive political position, or that leads necessarily to Leninist intolerance.

    Zizek recently said somewhere that, despite the (deserved) mockery of Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, there is a sense in which ‘we are all Fukuyamists now’, in that the Left, in developed countries, accepts tacitly or otherwise that capitalism is the only game in town, and the dispute is not one between revolution and capitalism, but between different kinds of capitalism (neoliberal vs social democratic reform). Introducing Lenin into this kind of discourse is as much using him as a kind of signifier or cypher rather than an integration of him into a politically necessary or defensible position.

    Oh well. I look forward to carrying on the Zizek debate in the near future. At a Leninist blog the other day Zizek was copping plenty of criticism from the left, so he’s managing to find disagreement with many people.

  5. @ndy says:

    Žižek’s New Book: In Defense Of Lost Causes, Perverse Egalitarianism, April 30, 2008?

  6. THR says:

    There’s also going to be a discussion of Zizek at Readings Bookstore in a couple of weeks.

  7. grumpy cat says:

    THR wrote: “He (Zizek) certainly doesn’t offer any clear political prescriptions…”

    I disagree. He argues against ‘resistance’, which he sees as a form of engagement with capital that ultimately just works as a way of fine tuning it (see the last chapters of ‘The Parallax View’). And he argues for withdrawal followed by the Act. Which I think actually fits with the activity of the Zapatistas – at least in their lead up 1994.

    Also, like Badiou, he argues that the ‘limits’ of radical activity can only be set from within the struggle itself, by the actors engaging in struggle. Attempts to create outside bench marks ultimately collapse into liberalism, and a refusal to struggle.

    rebel love
    Dave

  8. @ndy says:

    grumpy: You may be right about Critchley, viz, his support for some version of ‘non-state’ reformism. I think there’s been a number of shifts in anarchist thinking on this subject in recent years, which have taken place against a backdrop of widespread defeat; partly a result of the demise of the classical anarchist movement, and partly the near-total global dominance of Marxist thinking on questions of social change — a product, in turn, of the triumph of Communism. I think that the events of 1968 went some way towards constituting a final break with this dominance, one previously punctuated by minor interruptions accompanying the numerous ‘betrayals’ of working class revolt in the territories under its control (1953, 1956, 1968, 1980…) and resultant ideological crises. To summarise, post-1968, questions concerning the creation of what Critchley calls “interstitial distance” within the state have tended to take place in the context of a widespread skepticism towards the possibility of social revolution, and an even deeper suspicion of its liberatory potential; I think this skepticism is manifest in all kinds of radical (and not-so-radical) critiques of contemporary capitalist society.

    I’m not sure Žižek, at least insofar as some of his more recent pronouncements on politics are concerned, offers much that is genuinely new; his novelty lies in his seeming attempt to rehabilitate Lenin as a worthy revolutionary thinker and activist, and to save Leninism from its own (well-deserved) disrepute.

    THR: Yeah, I dunno. It may be that there are two Žižeks: Žižek the Lacanian, and Žižek the Leninist… and never the twain shall meet(?). In terms of his political positions, I don’t think his support for Hugo could be any more plain. And while “Chávez is possibly not the best way to assess Žižek, since there are as many views on Chávez as there are political positions”, Žižek nevertheless insists that his program be “fully endorsed”. David Graeber wrote that:

    Slavoj Žižek is a delightful provocateur and an extraordinarily gifted intellectual comedian. One day he’s denouncing do-gooder capitalists like George Soros by insisting capitalism is an irredeemable system of structural violence; a few weeks later, he’s informing the Left there’s no chance of ever overcoming capitalism, but they should take hope in the fact that “we can do it better”. One day he’s embracing Lenin as a man whose aim was to destroy all states forever, the next he’s arguing the state must be maintained as the only possible remaining bulwark against capitalism. To respond to such statements as if they educed a consistent political position seems slightly oafish. Still, if you choose someone like this as a book reviewer, your readers are unlikely to learn much about the book. Worse, “Resistance is Surrender,” which purports to be a review of Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding, is clearly intended less as a review than as a political intervention aimed to head off any possibility that LRB’s readers might give serious consideration to its message.

    That would be unfortunate.

    Critchley’s book is important, it seems to me, because it is a kind of overture. It is almost unheard of for professional intellectuals—philosophers, no less—to engage seriously with radical social movements. The reason is simple enough: it requires listening…

    …to be able to do this, we will probably have to learn to get over ourselves a little. This is the eventuality against which Žižek seems to be making his heroic stand. After all, why choose Chávez? Why not, say, Evo Morales, who unlike Chávez really was placed in power by, and remains answerable to, genuine social movements? Obviously: for that very reason. Could we really imagine someone like Žižek, even in his fantasies, patiently listening to the demands of the directly democratic assemblies of El Alto? Chávez, on the other hand, is precisely the political figure such an intellectual would wish himself to be: a virtuoso performer and political comedian holding power with no real responsibilities to anyone except the pleasure of his audience. Sure, it’s a seductive fantasy. But it’s precisely the fantasy we have to get past if we want to make a genuine difference in the world.

    Anyway, I’m not convinced Žižek simply uses Lenin as a signifier — to be precise, I think that Žižek finds Lenin politically attractive, and seeks to seriously defend this position.

    As such, Lenin’s politics is the true counterpoint not only to the Third Way pragmatic opportunism, but also to the marginalist Leftist attitude of what Lacan called le narcissisme de la chose perdue. What a true Leninist and a political conservative have in common is the fact that they reject what one could call liberal Leftist “irresponsibility” (advocating grand projects of solidarity, freedom, etc., yet ducking out when one has to pay the price for it in the guise of concrete and often “cruel” political measures): like an authentic conservative, a true Leninist is now afraid to pass to the act, to assume all the consequences, unpleasant as they may be, of realizing his political project. Rudyard Kipling (whom Brecht admired) despised British liberals who advocated freedom and justice, while silently counting on the Conservatives to do the necessary dirty work for them; the same can be said for the liberal Leftist’s (or “democratic Socialist’s”) relationship towards Leninist Communists: liberal Leftists reject the Social Democratic “compromise,” they want a true revolution, yet they shirk the actual price to be paid for it and thus prefer to adopt the attitude of a Beautiful Soul and to keep their hands clean. In contrast to this false radical Leftist’s position (who want true democracy for the people, but without the secret police to fight counterrevolution, without their academic privileges being threatened), a Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.

    ~ Can Lenin Tell Us About Freedom Today? (2001)

    Also :

    Have Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri Rewritten the Communist manifesto for the Twenty-First Century?, Rethinking Marxism, No. 3/4, 2001
    Seize the Day: Lenin’s Legacy, London Review of Books, July 25, 2002
    A Plea for Leninist Intolerance, Critical Inquiry, Winter 2002
    What Is To be Done (with Lenin)?, In These Times, January 21, 2004

    On anarchism:

    BS: In general, anarchism plays a big role in American radical politics and countercultures. Do you have any thoughts on this influence?

    Zizek: I certainly can understand where the appeal of anarchism lies. Even though I am quite aware of the contradictory and ambiguous nature of Marx’s relationship with anarchism, Marx was right when he drew attention to how anarchists who preach “no state no power” in order to realize their goals usually form their own society which obeys the most authoritarian rules. My first problem with anarchism is always, “Yeah, I agree with your goals, but tell me how you are organized.” For me, the tragedy of anarchism is that you end up having an authoritarian secret society trying to achieve anarchist goals. The second point is that I have problems with how anarchism is appropriate to today’s problems. I think if anything, we need more global organization. I think that the left should disrupt this equation that more global organization means more totalitarian control…

    BS: You describe the internal structure of anarchist groups as being authoritarian. Yet, the model popular with younger activists today is explicitly anti-hierarchical and consensus-oriented. Do you think there’s something furtively authoritarian about such apparently freewheeling structures?

    Zizek: Absolutely. And I’m not bluffing here; I’m talking from personal experience. Maybe my experience is too narrow, but it’s not limited to some mysterious Balkan region. I have contacts in England, France, Germany, and more [perhaps even New Zealand/Aotearoa and Sweden] — and all the time, beneath the mask of this consensus, there was one person [Spiny Norman] accepted by some unwritten rules as the secret master. The totalitarianism was absolute in the sense that people pretended that they were equal, but they all obeyed him. The catch was that it was prohibited to state clearly that he was the boss. You had to fake some kind of equality. The real state of affairs couldn’t be articulated. Which is why I’m deeply distrustful of this “let’s just coordinate this in an egalitarian fashion.” I’m more of a pessimist. In order to safeguard this equality, you have a more sinister figure of the master, who puts pressure on the others to safeguard the purity of the non-hierarchic principle. This is not just theory. I would be happy to hear of groups that are not caught in this strange dialectic.

    On anarchist secret societies which obey the most authoritarian rules with one person accepted by some unwritten rules as the secret master, see William M. Phillips, Nightmares of Anarchy: Language and Cultural Change 1870-1914, Bucknell University Press, 2003; Michael J. Schaack, Anarchy and Anarchists, FJ Schulte, 1889; Cesare Lombrosio, ‘The Physiognomy of the Anarchists’, The Monist, 1891. Word on the street is that if anyone is unfortunate enough to stumble into the den of an anarchist secret society, the identity of the boss is revealed by the fact that “the ears are without lobes; the ears are also developed a little more than normally… the forehead fine and full”.

    “It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is quite impractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly true. It is impractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.”

    ~ Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ (1891)

    “THE GROUND IS ON FIRE

    upon which you stand. You can’t understand it. You don’t believe in magical arts, as your grandfathers did, who burned witches at the stake, but you do believe in conspiracies; you believe that all these occurrences of late are the work of conspirators! You resemble the child that is looking for his picture behind the mirror. What you see, and what you try to grasp is nothing but the deceptive reflex of the stings of your bad conscience. You want to “stamp out the conspirators” – the “agitators?” Ah, stamp out every factory lord who has grown wealthy upon the unpaid labor of his employees. Stamp out every landlord who has amassed fortunes from the rent of overburdened workingmen and farmers. Stamp out every machine that is revolutionizing industry and agriculture, that intensifies the production, ruins the producer, that increases the national wealth, while the creator of all these things stands amidst them, tantalized with hunger! Stamp out the railroads, the telegraph, the telephone, steam and yourselves – for

    EVERYTHING BREATHES THE REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT.”

    ~ August Spies (1886)

  9. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All.

    I have not found any evidence that Zizek supports the formation of a Leninist party (I don’t think Chavez’s party could be called ‘Leninist’). What he supports is the decisive act, that forces the situation, rather than waiting for the historical conditions to ripen; he supports a certain kind of universalism; and taking responsibility for the ‘necessary’ violence it takes to overthrow capitalism.

    As for Lacan and Lenin, I think they do meet. Zizek uses Lacan to articulate where a possible revolutionary subject comes from. (Too tired from the beach/Brisbane ’68 forum to articulate.)

    rebel love
    Dave

  10. @ndy says:

    Coupla things.

    On Žižek’s support for the formation of a Leninist party. To begin with, there’s no shortage of Leninist parties, so it would seem slightly redundant to call for the formation of one. And while you may be right, Dave, in according to Žižek the desire to re-open the possibility of a decisive break with existing conditions — and in seemingly highly unpropitious circumstances — and to assert nothing less than the possibility of creating a whole new world, a ‘utopia’, Žižek himself argues that “the task is to make the new party function not as a typical state socialist (or Peronist) party, but as a vehicle for the mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots slum committees)”.

    Uh-huh. In any case, Žižek also argues that “…the first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things (which then inevitably ends in a cul de sac of debilitating impossibility, leaving one to ask, What can one do against global capital?) but to question the hegemonic ideological coordinates.” Insofar as Žižek critiques liberal/democratic political and philosophical hegemony, including and perhaps most especially over ‘the left’ (which includes, apparently, Bill Clinton), fine. But his real target is not the ‘honest’ supporters of this hegemony, but “…the pseudo-radical academic leftists who adopt the attitude of utter disdain toward the Third Way, while their own radicality ultimately amounts to an empty gesture that obliges no one to anything determinate.”

    If this is so, and if Žižek is not to be placed among the ranks of these “pseudo-radical academic leftists”, then it would appear incumbent upon him to go beyond their abstract denunciations, and to make meaningful, not empty, gestures towards action; something determinate, in other words. Which, in fact, he does. “Against this temptation, one should rather follow the unsurpassed model of Pascal and ask the difficult question: how are we to remain faithful to the old in the new conditions? Only in this way can we generate something effectively new.”

    Some leftists want to redeem Lenin (partially, at least) by opposing the “bad” Jacobin-elitist Lenin of What Is to Be Done?, the Lenin who relied on the Party as the professional, intellectual elite that enlightens the working class from outside, to the “good” Lenin of State and Revolution, who envisioned the prospect of abolishing the state, of the broad masses directly taking the administration of the public affairs into their hands. However, this opposition has its limits; the key premise of State and Revolution is that one cannot fully “democratize” the state, that state as such, in its very notion, is a dictatorship of one class over another. The logical conclusion from this premise is that, insofar as we still dwell within the domain of the state, we are legitimized to exercise full violent terror, since, within this domain, every democracy is a fake. Because state is an instrument of oppression, it is not worth trying to improve its apparatuses such as the protection of the legal order, elections, laws guaranteeing personal freedoms, and so forth. All this becomes irrelevant. The moment of truth in this reproach is that one cannot separate the unique constellation that enabled the revolutionary takeover in October 1917 from its later Stalinist turn; the very constellation that rendered the revolution possible (peasants’ dissatisfaction, a well-organized revolutionary elite) led to the “Stalinist” turn in its aftermath. Therein resides the proper Leninist tragedy.

    According to Žižek, Lenin’s “greatness” may be found in his reaction to the outbreak of WWI and the capitulation of the Social Democratic parties.

    “This, the moment of Verzweiflung, this the catastrophe that opened up the site for the Leninist event, for breaking the evolutionary historicism of the Second International. And only Lenin was the one at the level of this opening, the one to articulate the truth of this catastrophe. Through this moment of despair, the Lenin who, through reading Hegel, was able to detect the unique chance for revolution, was born. His State and Revolution is strictly correlative to this shattering experience…

    …the kernel of the Leninist utopia arises out of the ashes of the catastrophe of 1914, in his settling of accounts with the Second International orthodoxy. This includes the radical imperative to smash the bourgeois state, which means the state as such, and to invent a new communal social form without a standing army, police, or bureaucracy, in which all could take part in the administration of the social matters. This was for Lenin no theoretical project for some distant future. In October 1917, Lenin claimed that “we can at once set in motion a state apparatus constituting of ten if not twenty million people.” This urge of the moment is the true utopia. One cannot overestimate the explosive potential of State and Revolution, for in this book, “the vocabulary and grammar of the Western tradition of politics was abruptly dispensed with” (L, p. 152). What then followed can be called, borrowing the title of Althusser’s text on Machiavelli, la solitude de Lenine, the time when he basically stood alone, struggling against the current in his own party. When, in his “April Theses” from 1917, Lenin discerned the Augenblick, the unique chance for a revolution, his proposals were first met with stupor or contempt by a large majority of his party colleagues. Within the Bolshevik party, no prominent leader supported his call to revolution, and Pravda took the extraordinary step of dissociating the party, and the editorial board as a whole, from Lenin’s theses. Far from being opportunistic, flattering and exploiting the prevailing mood of the populace, Lenin’s views were highly idiosyncratic. Bogdanov characterized the “April Theses” as “the delirium of a madman,” and Krupskaya herself concluded that “I am afraid it looks as if Lenin has gone crazy” (L, p. 86).

    Lenin is for us not the nostalgic name for old dogmatic certainty; quite on the contrary, to put it in Kierkegaard’s terms, the Lenin we want to retrieve is the Lenin-in-becoming, the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which old coordinates proved useless and who was thus compelled to reinvent Marxism… The idea is not to return to Lenin, but to repeat him in the Kierkegaardian sense, to retrieve the same impulse in today’s constellation.”

    Oddly, in relation a recent seeming upsurge in radical struggle in the West, Žižek writes:

    “The ten-year honeymoon of triumphant global capitalism is over; the long overdue seven-year itch is here-witness the panicked reactions of big media, which from Time magazine to CNN suddenly started to warn about the Marxists manipulating the crowd of “honest” protesters.”

    An “honest” account would locate this danger as lurking in the heart of the anarchist beast; indeed, for Marxists, the problem was precisely their seeming absence from such confrontations, and thus the question became how to actually penetrate this crowd with their ideology, and how to provide this surprisingly active body with a brain.

    Or as Žižek puts it:

    The problem is now the strictly Leninist one: how to actualize the media’s accusations, how to invent the organizational structure that will confer on this unrest the form of a universal political demand. Otherwise the momentum will be lost, and what will remain is a marginal disturbance, perhaps organized as a new Greenpeace, endowed with a certain efficiency but also strictly limited goals, marketing strategy, and so forth. In other words, the key Leninist lesson today is that politics without the organizational form of the party is politics without politics…

    What, then, is the criterion of the political act? Success as such clearly doesn’t count, even if we define it in Merleau-Ponty’s dialectical way (as the wager that the future will retroactively redeem our present horrible acts); neither do any abstract-universal ethical norms.” The only criteria is the absolutely inherent one: that of the enacted utopia. In a proper revolutionary breakthrough, the utopian future is neither simply fully realized, present, nor simply evoked as a distant promise that justifies present violence. It is rather as if, in a unique suspension of temporality, in the short circuit between the present and the future, we are-as if by Grace-for a brief time allowed to act as if the utopian future were (not yet fully here, but) already at hand, just there to be grabbed. Revolution is not experienced as a present hardship we have to endure for the happiness and freedom of the future generations but as the present hardship over which this future happiness and freedom already cast their shadow-in it, we already are free while fighting for freedom, we already are happy while fighting for happiness, no matter how difficult the circumstances…

    Perhaps the signifier Trotsky is the most appropriate designation of that which is worth redeeming in the Leninist legacy… The reference to Lenin should serve as the signifier of the effort to break the vicious circle of these false options.

    Consequently, to repeat Lenin does not mean a return to Lenin. To repeat Lenin is to accept that Lenin is dead, that his particular solution failed, even failed monstrously, but that there was a utopian spark in it worth saving. To repeat Lenin means that one has to distinguish between what Lenin actually did and the field of possibilities that he opened up, the tension in Lenin between what he effectively did and another dimension one might call what was “in Lenin more than Lenin himself.”

    To repeat Lenin is to repeat not what Lenin did, but what he failed to do, his missed opportunities. Today, Lenin appears as a figure from a different era: it’s not that his notions such as a centralized party seem to pose a totalitarian threat; it’s rather that they seem to belong to a different epoch to which we can no longer properly relate. However, instead of reading this fact as proof that Lenin is outdated, one should, perhaps, risk the opposite conjecture. What if this impenetrability of Lenin is a sign that there is something wrong with our epoch, that a certain historical dimension is disappearing from it.

    It seems to me that what Žižek is grappling with is the collapse of revolutionary Marxism, in particular its dominant, Leninist expressions. I think his attempt to rehabilitate Lenin fails on at least two crucial points. First, his seemingly exclusive identification of this ‘impulse’ with the Leninist program, viz, the conquest of state power. It’s really no accident that Žižek praises Chávez. In Žižek’s imagination, Chávez embodies this impulse. He is the Man of Action, unwilling to ‘resist’ state power, but rather to seize it, and to put it to use in pursuit of his aims. These aims, as Žižek describes them, are to militarise Venezuelan society and to subordinate the various competing parties into one. In short, to create a “ruthless” state apparatus, completely subordinate to his control: a one-party state.

    More later…

  11. @ndy says:

    Venezuela 2008: A libertarian proposal for the current situation
    El Libertario
    February 26, 2008

    ======

    The collective editorship of El Libertario expounds its vision of which path to follow in the current situation in Venezuela, summed up in the slogan, “Against the (B)oligarchy, demagoguery and corruption: Autonomous struggle of the underdogs!”.

    ======

    Positive transformations in society are produced by the actions of popular movements and not by governments. As has been clearly illustrated in the case of Venezuela, as well in other parts of Latin America, the will for change of the majority has been channelled and co-opted by a new bureaucracy which tries, by all available means, to tighten its grip on power. Since 1999 the survival at any cost of the new government has been its principle aim, and in the centralisation, militarization and personalisation that have been promoted under the euphemism ‘revolutionary process’, one of its principal tasks has been to pacify and co-opt the wide array of power structures and protagonists who, during the 1990s, struggled to end the domination of Acción Democrática and COPEI, the two political parties who successively governed the country since 1958.

    Believing themselves to be represented by the executive bandwagon that came to power at the end of 1998, dozens of social movements who had rejected neoliberalism, the privatisation of public services, the various massacres carried out by the Army (Yumare, El Amparo, etc), and the diverse exploitative and exclusivist policies of previous governments, decided to give president Chavez their full backing, literally handing him a blank cheque. The oppressed peoples of Venezuela decided to set aside their own issues and demands in order to assume, as their own, the policies of the new regime. Thus similarly, community and grass roots organisations abandoned their own reflections and ways of doing things, their autonomy of thought and action, in order to internalize and repeat the discourses and logic of those who proclaimed to be working in the interests of the people.

    After nine years of this government, aided by the greatest economic boom in the last thirty years and the support of all public authorities, we start to discover and corroborate the fact that nothing has really changed. That we have changed the names of our leaders but continue to be as oppressed as we ever were. That those that have sullied the word ‘revolution’, and other similar ideas, have managed our misery in order to secure their place in the elite of the rich and privileged. In contrast, others, disenchanted by the ‘Bolivarian’ project and blinded by rage, have moved from supporting today’s oppressors to supporting those who oppressed us yesterday, apply the mistaken strategy of opting for the ‘lesser evil’. And like their Chavista opposites they have mortgaged their freedom in order to be led by another faction who decide, from above, what tasks must be undertaken. We appeal to both groups: It is now time to recuperate our autonomy as a first step towards constructing real change.

    What is Autonomy?

    Autonomy is the capacity to create our own working structures and ways of doing things, and to question that which we have inherited from history. The term is constructed by combining two Greek words ‘autos’ and ‘nomos’ which together mean literally to make one’s own law. Autonomy, in political terms, is the possibility that human beings should be capable of defining, in a free way, their own projects in life, that it should be they who organise and decide, in the most democratic way possible, all of the elements that affect their daily lives, from work to sexuality, from how we use our free time to nutrition etc.

    The opposite of autonomy is heteronomy, to live under rules that we don’t decide. Authority educates us in servitude, as it is always others who make the decisions, and these measures, as well as the institutions that enforce them, are called sacred and unquestionable. An individual starts to become autonomous when they begin to ask themselves if things must always be as they are, or if they could work better in other forms. Thus it is said that autonomy is an endless interrogation, that it not detained by anything, and that it even constantly questions its preliminary conclusions. If the State, Government, the Army and prisons are unjust, can they not be changed for something better? An autonomous individual never loses sight of the fact that the rules for the functioning of society are created by people, and that they can be substituted at any moment, by the very same people, when they plot against the common good. Individual autonomy is produced through free reflection and deliberation, made concrete through one’s own thought, and through being the sovereign agent of one’s self and one’s actions.

    A Russian revolutionary, Mikhail Bakunin, affirmed that the freedom of others infinitely elevates one’s personal freedom. An autonomous individual understands that he/she cannot be independent if they live in an oppressive and unjust society, thus they organise with their counterparts in order to confront those who seek to limit the enjoyment of their rights and freedom. Autonomy proposes self-organisation, rejecting external influences, creating its own forms of organisation, that work for the objectives mapped out by the actual people involved. Thus it is that autonomous social movements are popular organisms that respond to the necessities voiced by their members, and not to the decrees of any authority. Because they develop in the margins of society, and against the institutions that dominate them, they realise practices of self-management and direct action. An autonomous social movement defines its own struggles which it does not defer, negotiate, subordinate or abandon due to any external influence. This doesn’t mean that they can’t coincide with other movements in the search for common objectives, but that these relations must be equal, preserving the identity of the different parts and strengthening, without any dilution, their original objectives. From another perspective, autonomous social movements generate their own resources, through self-management, thus rejecting the mechanism of subordination of subsidies from the government, political parties and businesses.

    All governments need to control belligerent forces, thus they know that they need to reduce the autonomy of the group with the potential to generate real change. On creating by decree the so-called ‘popular power’, the current executive assures itself of channelling the efforts of those at the bottom of the heap in favour of reviving, legitimising and perpetuating the situation of domination, disguising it with pretty names. The resultant state organs, due to their fictitious independence and not having been born out of the peoples struggles, reproduce the vices of the State and of other oppressive institutions. All power, (be it State, municipal, military or popular), possesses an instinct for preservation at all costs, and sooner rather than later will create a new bureaucracy, as perverse as the one that has been replaced.

    Autonomous struggle, now!

    The creation of and experimentation with diverse organisational expressions seeks to generate, here and now, a different culture. Thus autonomy opts for a decision making process based in assemblies, direct democracy, in order to guarantee respect for diversity, slow down hierarchical structuring, authority and the loss of independence and sovereignty in the struggle. As we have alternative practices to those in power, the oppressed will struggle against hegemony as we construct, brick by brick, our own independent culture, a shared identity and imagination. In this process of learning the means should always be coherent with the ends.

    The proposal for the current situation is for the creation of a constellation of diverse groups and autonomous movements, self governed by those involved, to fight for the conquest of rights that have been hijacked by authority: housing, worthwhile employment, health, education, personal security, public spaces and quality of life amongst other issues. Some recent experiences such as the indigenous and environmental movement against the mining industry in Zulia and the Committee of Victims in Lara are already moving in this direction. Then, for the creation of multiple spaces for survival and resistance that would be autonomous and completely free from the influence of government and private business, and that would be linked in a horizontal way and through leaderless cooperation. The existence of many social movements would counter the false polarization: neither Chavistas nor opposition, these would be people struggling for their own rights and not for the privileges of those above.

    The institutions of power will try to co-opt, without doubt, the free belligerence of the oppressed. But, on creating successive insurrectional situations through the autonomous movements, their connection, cohesion, amplification and radicalisation- due to the inability on the part of the government to satisfy their demands- will transform the movements of ephemeral revolt into revolutionary moments and generalised self-management. In this way the autonomous movements have the potential to transform themselves, through insurrection, into truly revolutionary movements. In this there are, however, no short cuts: no politicians with populist masks, nor strong leaders with ‘earthen feet’. This is the lesson that we must learn from the disastrous ‘Bolivarian Socialist government’.

  12. grumpy cat says:

    @ndy wrote:

    …for Marxists, the problem was precisely their seeming absence from such confrontations, and thus the question became how to actually penetrate this crowd with their ideology, and how to provide this surprisingly active body with a brain.

    Except of course they/we were not absent either in Europe or here in Australia. One only needs to look at anarchist publications like Schnews and Do or Die to see the influence of groups like Aufheben. In no small part due to the turn towards Marx (and communism generally – especially the Situationists, Autonomism, Left communism, Bordiga, Dauve, etc. http://www.libcom.org is the inheritor of this) carried out by anarchos in England from the late ’80s on. Or to realise that what are often described by Leninists as ‘anarchist’ tactics, such as black blocs, have a wider pedigree: one that includes diverse trends of ‘Marxism’.

    In Australia whilst ‘M1′ did not take off in Sydney and Melbourne till 2001 it did take place in Wollongong in 2000. Largely due to the work of people in ‘Revolutionary Action’: some who would call themselves anarchists, others Marxists. Indeed when in September 2000 we turned up to Barricade Books with piles of our zine for free we were greeted with withering contempt and our work dismissed as ‘Marxist crap’.

    So don’t falsify me out of history @ndy.
    rebel love
    Dave

    And i think it is clear in Zizek’s work that the conquest of state power is seen only as valid when it is the form the ‘Act’ takes. Other ‘Acts’ Zizek suggests would [be] either Israelis or Palestinians declaring their love for Jerusalem by refusing to fight for it, and leaving the terrain of battle, or rebel communities in Brazil in the 1800s. Zizek’s error is not that he is for state power, but that he is for power of the Act in any form and does not, like Negri, make a distinction between constitutive and constituted power.

  13. @ndy says:

    Dave,

    Inre that statement in particular, I have in mind texts such as ‘Anarchism and the Anti-Globalization Movement’ by Barbara Epstein (Monthly Review, September 2001) which relates mainly to the US experience. Further, efforts such as Globalise Resistance, to which Schnews published a rejoinder, ‘Monopolise Resistance’, at around the same time as Epstein’s essay was published.

    As Schnews notes elsewhere, “…it was the mass protests against the WTO in Seattle in November 1999 that really brought this ‘movement’ to the world’s attention”, which I think is more or less accurate. Prior to this, in 1999, was J18. In Australia, “Kim Beazley, Opposition leader, was pied for speaking at an APEC/Global Trade meeting sponsored by Shell. Protestors harassed the Stock Exchange, McDonalds and Australian bank, Westpac who invest in the Jabiluka uranium mine. Elsewhere in Melbourne, bells were sounded to wake up the world to Third World Debt problems, a Critical Mass and a Food not Bombs breakfast were held. Protesters blockaded the stock exchange with dead wombats!” (They were rather smelly too.)

    On the origins of Do Or Die!, the anonymous editors were interviewed in 2006. Although none were involved at the beginning, they claim that the project emerged in 1992 and re-presented a voice of a segment of Earth First!, “DoD and the political perspective it represented was relatively unpopular at the beginning. DoD was essentially trying to fulfil the same role that Live Wild or Die! did in the States – a radical anarchist fringe publication trying to ginger things up a bit…” Further, it appears to me that, based on my own reading of the journal and according to those interviewed, DoD was informed by a number of different influences; in any case, both DoD and Aufheben first appeared in 1992, so I imagine that they may have influenced each other, as well as the broader radical milieu in the UK from which both emerged. The fact that both were published in Brighton suggests that the links may have been quite close. [On the emergence of 'radical environmental' critiques in this period, see also the bibliography compiled by Bron Taylor, 'Radical Environmentalism ~ The Initial Decades: A Historical, Documentary Bibliography' (PDF).]

    The journal Aufheben was first produced in the UK in Autumn 1992. Those involved had participated in a number of struggles together – the anti-poll tax movement, the campaign against the Gulf War – and wanted to develop theory in order to participate more effectively: to understand capital and ourselves as part of the proletariat so we could attack capital more effectively. We began this task with a reading group dedicated to Marx’s Capital and Grundrisse. Our influences included the Italian autonomia movement of 1969-77, the situationists, and others who took Marx’s work as a basic starting point and used it to develop the communist project beyond the anti-proletarian dogmatisms of Leninism (in all its varieties) and to reflect the current state of the class struggle. We also recognized the moment of truth in versions of class struggle anarchism, the German and Italian lefts and other tendencies. In developing proletarian theory we needed to go beyond all these past movements at the same time as we developed them – just as they had done with previous revolutionary movements.

    Anyway, the point is, my point was directed less at the various strands of ‘libertarian Marxism’ that have been percolating for the last 100 years or so, but — in the context of a critique of Žižek’s interpretation of and support for some notion of ‘Leninism’ — precisely such dominant authoritarian interpretations. Beyond which, I’d suggest that the ideas and practices of the SI have been the subject of discussion, and been a influence, within anarchist milieus, both local and foreign, since their emergence, and especially in the post-1968 period. For example, in Melbourne, in 1971, there was a ‘Situationist Faction’ at LaTrobe University; in Brisbane, in 1981, Brickburner Press published ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’; as far as I’m aware, initially at least (by which I mean prior to the popularisation of such texts, and their incorporation into the academy and wider marketplace), anarchist networks — including but not limited to infoshops and other formalised distribution centres — have been distributing Situationist, autonomist, and other, radical leftist writings, both in Australia and overseas, for several decades. Evidence for the influence of such ideas is both documentary and anecdotal; older comrades I have spoken to were beginning to become familiar with Situationist texts from the late 1960s. All of which is a rather long-winded means of pointing out that, regardless of whether or not “anarchist publications like Schnews and Do or Die” may be read for evidence of “the influence of groups like Aufheben“, anarchists have been examining/absorbing/rejecting/critiquing/adapting the ideological productions and political practices of these and similar formations for many years. (See, for example, Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, 1-6, Cienfuegos Press (1976-82), and the pages of similar English-language journals of the ’60s and ’70s.)

    As something of an aside, Albert Meltzer has some typically caustic remarks on the zeitgeist:

    The Wooden Shoe

    One result of Cuddons was that Ted, with Anna Blume and Jim Duke, set up the Wooden Shoe Bookshop. It was still possible to open shops, this one in the heart of West Central in unreconstructed New Compton Street, with neither capital, premium or deposit. Even so, it was desirable to have enough put by to pay the rent and rates when due, which finally scuppered this bookshop as it did my commercial ones.

    A few years later the Wooden Shoe might have been a viable if not profit-making proposition with its policy of selling books relating to Anarchism and related topics. But at the time there was little variety to offer, and what there was could be found on the bottom shelves in other establishments. To get customers it had to find more stock and this had to be Marxist or non-political literary, and meant running up debts to publishers which eventually swamped the venture. Before Ted and Anna closed down with a cryptic note saying “Gone fishing” there were a few far-reaching events. As a meeting place rather than as a bookshop, it influenced the beginnings of new squatting movement, created a least a diversion on the anti-Vietnam War movement and led to the black flag flying over the barricades in Paris. Not bad for an under-capitalised, mismanaged and loss-making bookshop that scarcely existed a year!

    The French Connection

    Impressed by the attention suddenly, flatteringly and quite undeservedly given to the anarchists by the press over the Vietnam demo (to which I will come), a few French students came to London to find out how it was done. As we now had a centre, they could come to the Wooden Shoe bookshop, and they turned up for discussions. The only advice we gave, or could give, was to point out it was organised workers, not students preparing for bourgeois careers, who would be able to change society. They also met the Situationists, who told them the exact reverse.

    When the students went back they followed their own instincts and the result was the rising in the Universities that sparked off the workers’ rising and barricades in Paris leading to the black flag flying from public buildings, a roadshow version of the Paris Commune of 1871, if not as important as political commentators deemed it to be. One of the students concerned, certainly the most voluble of those who came to the Wooden Shoe, was Daniel Cohn-Bendit (like ‘Red Emma’ he got called ‘Danny the Red’ because of his hair, but people concluded it was because of his politics) got the full glare of publicity as if he had been solely responsible for the mini-revolution of 1968. In fact, he was singled out as a ‘leader’ by the press because he was a German Jew, and they hoped this would prejudice the workers, but it didn’t, and by misfiring made him a ‘petit grand homme’. The British press did the same thing with Tariq Ali more successfully, claiming he was a student, or even a revolutionary, leader, though he only led a minor dissident Trotskyist group. Both were surpassed by the German press which, though it had no racial target left to shoot at, induced the actual shooting of the alleged ‘student leader’ Rudi Dutschke.”

    Regarding ‘the turn towards Marx’, on my reading, this twisting and turning has been going on for an even longer period… probably since Bakunin volunteered to translate Capital (which he never completed; he was, however, the first person to translate Hegel into Russian). Incidentally, an edition of Bakunin’s work titled ‘Marxism Freedom and the State’ was first translated and edited by K. J. Kenafick in Melbourne in 1950, and was dedicated “TO THE MEMORY OF J. W. (Chummy) FLEMING WHO, FOR NEARLY SIXTY YEARS UPHELD THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM AT THE YARA BANK OPEN AIR FORUM MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA”.

    In addition, the work of Anton Pannekoek was also distributed locally at around the same time by Jim Dawson:

    Preface to 1950 edition

    The main part of this book has been written during the war under the occupation of Holland by the Germans, the first three parts 1942; the fourth 1944; a fifth part was added after the war, 1947. The author, who during many years attentively observed, and sometimes actively took part in, the workers’ movement, gives here a summary of what from these experiences and study may be derived as to methods and aims of the workers’ fight for freedom. A somewhat different Dutch version was published in Holland, 1946. The English version was printed at Melbourne serially, as an addition to the monthly “Southern Advocate for Workers’ Councils,” during the years 1947-49. Owing to many difficulties the publication in book-form was delayed until 1950.

    J.A Dawson

    On Jim Dawson and the Southern Advocate, see Steve Wright, LEFT COMMUNISM IN AUSTRALIA: J. A. DAWSON AND THE SOUTHERN ADVOCATE FOR WORKERS’ COUNCILS, Thesis Eleven, No.1, 1980.

    On the ideological complexion of ‘black blocs’, I’ve already made reference; as a matter of fact, in reply to ‘Leninist’ criticism:

    Mick’s all-too-brief analysis of ‘black bloc anarchists’ may find support among the few hundred university students who form his party’s membership, and who remain largely ignorant of the recent history of European radical social movements. It could also be found in any number of tabloid treatments of the same subject. But as history, it is, as Henry Ford might say, bunkum.

    To begin with, and briefly, a ‘black bloc’ is a tactic, a protest formation consisting of x number of people clad, as the name suggests, in black, and marching together, forming a bloc. What black blocs ’specialise’ in is given by what they do, and in the context of protest marches, while this sometimes involves property damage, it may also mean, more simply, providing some degree of protection to its membership from police and fascist violence, as well as a degree of tactical cohesion that would otherwise be lacking. Further, it would be a mistake to make an overdetermination, as Mick does, of the political meaning and significance of the black bloc, as in practice this tactical formation has been utilised by a range of groups, with sometimes disparate ideologies.* Finally, any such attribution would first have to acknowledge that this social phenomenon, like all others, has a history, and of the hundreds if not thousands of occasions upon which black blocs have formed over the last two to three decades, to characterise this history as having as its most salient features the ‘disruption’ of mass protests, the launching of ‘provocative’ attacks upon police, and the ‘endangering’ of the lives of other protesters is not only inaccurate, but a stupid, vicious lie.

    (*At the S11 protest against the WEF in Melbourne in September 2000, SocAlt, seeking to capitalise upon the media’s fascination with the ‘black bloc’, attempted to ape ‘anarchist’ imagery by forming a ‘red bloc’; a practice which they apparently have continued to pusue, most recently at G20.)

    In reality, the origins of the ‘black bloc’ may be found in the development of confrontations between ‘autonomist’ movements and the state, in particular those which took place in Germany in the early 1980s. The ‘black bloc’ was ’spontaneous’ in the sense that it emerged partly as a result of a pre-existing preference among young radicals to wear black (and given the supposed inclination of Melbournians to do the same, perhaps Mick has a right to be worried?), and a desire to defend movement projects and street protests from state, and later neo-Nazi, assault. Or as Daniel Dylan Young describes it:

      In response to violent state oppression radical activists developed the tactic of the Black Bloc: they went to protests and marches wearing black motorcycle helmets and ski masks and dressing in uniform black clothing (or, for the most prepared, wearing padding and steel-toed boots and bringing their own shields and truncheons). In Black Bloc, autonomen and other radicals could more effectively fend off police attacks, without being singled out as individuals for arrest and harassment later on. And, as everyone quickly figured out, having a massive group of people all dressed the same with their faces covered not only helps in defending against the police, but also makes it easier for saboteurs to take the offensive against storefronts, banks and any other material symbols and power centers of capitalism and the state. Masking up as a Black Bloc encouraged popular participation in public property destruction and violence against the state and capitalism. In this way the Black Bloc is a form of militance that mitigates the problematic dichotomy between popularly executed non-violent civil disobedience and elite, secretive guerilla terrorism and sabotage.

    For more on autonomist movements in Western Europe, see George Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements And The Decolonization of Everyday Life (Second Edition), AK Press, 2006; a useful if typically hostile (to anarchism) account written by a follower of Marcuse.

    With regards May Day, it’s true that M1 mobilised many more people, but in Melbourne in 2000 there was also a May Day celebration. Unfortunately, the video produced by Access News/SKA-TV is no longer available online. However, Ann Capling and Kim Richard Nossal (Death of Distance or Tyranny of Distance? The Internet, Deterritorialization, and the Anti-Globalization Movement in Australia, Paper for presentation to the XVII Triennial World Congress of the International Political Science Association, Quebec City, August 1, 2000) note that:

    It is indicative that although Australians are prone to attend political demonstrations in large numbers (for example, hundreds of thousands actively protested French nuclear testing in 1995; 30,000 people in Melbourne alone attended a protest against Hanson’s One Nation in 1998; 250,000 marched across Sydney Harbour Bridge to support aboriginal reconciliation in May 2000) a mere 100 people turned out to protest against the WTO and global capitalism in Melbourne on May Day 2000. Sean Healy of the S11 Alliance has argued that one of the reasons for this is simply that Australian anti-globalization activism is “three to four years behind the US version.” Quoted in Sian Powell, “Fights, Cameras, Activists,” Weekend Australian, 8-9 July 2000, Review 4-6. We disagree with Healy: the analysis here suggests that Australians are not “behind” Americans; rather, Australians worry about globalization for markedly different reasons than Americans.

    Funnily enough, while the May Day protest in Melbourne in 2000 was small, it was in fact a precursor to S11, and reported as such in the corporate media. It was also at around this time that S11-AWOL began to develop. I remember it as a bit of fun anyway, as well as an important vehicle for establishing the personal and political relationships that carried over until S11 (and beyond).

    “Indeed when in September 2000 we turned up to Barricade Books with piles of our zine for free we were greeted with withering contempt and our work dismissed as ‘Marxist crap’.”

    That’s unfortunate, but I’m not sure what your point is. Is it related to the efforts of RA to organise a May Day event in Wollongong in 2000, or are you suggesting that this is evidence of something else?

    Cheers,

    @ndy.

    PS. On Žižek, Negri, and power, later. In the meantime:

  14. grumpy cat says:

    All i am saying @ndy is that many of us Marxists (to put on that ill fitting pair of trousers that I find too itchy) were there in that great mix that you so wonderfully describe, as active and equal parts. Yet you seem to constantly have to brand things in an Anarchist vs Leninist framework; a framework we might want to leave behind for more creative engagements of ideas/actions.

    rebel love
    Dave

  15. @ndy says:

    Comrade Dave,

    The post concerns Žižek, Critchley and Lenin. Critchley: “Oddly enough when I read Slavoj Žižek’s critique of my book Infinitely Demanding [”Resistance is Surrender”, Readings, February], a copy of Lenin’s State and Revolution was sitting on my desk at home. One of the striking features of Lenin’s text is that for all the venom he spews at liberals, social democrats and the bourgeoisie, it is nothing compared to what he reserves for his true enemy, the anarchists… If Žižek attacks me with characteristically Leninist violence for belonging to the latter, it is equally clear which faction he supports.”

    Et cetera.

  16. grumpy cat says:

    But Zizek’s non-party Lenin, whilst flawed, does not conform with Leninism as commonly experienced. Nor does Critchley’s anarchism (heavily reliant on the post-Maoism of Badiou) conform to what many would consider anarchism, so dragging both out into the tired old framework really isn’t that useful. If you want I would be happy to participate in an an online reading group of either Zizek or Critchley – this might give the discussion some more substance.
    rebel love
    Dave

  17. grumpy cat says:

    Second thoughts: it would probably be better to do it on Critchley’s book. It is slim and topical, and any writer who says “For me, Marx’s analysis of capitalism remains the sine qua non for the understanding of contemporary socio-economic life” can’t be all bad. Plus I think his position on class is similar to yours @ndy so maybe we could have a good cyber chat on that too.

  18. @ndy says:

    Dave,

    I agree that Critchley’s ‘anarchism’ appears to represent a re-interpretation or re-formulation of anarchism understood as being a revolutionary doctrine; then again, I think its importance resides in the fact that he is a fairly well-established philosopher who pays serious attention to the question, whatever flaws reside in this re-casting of ‘anarchism’ as residing in “interstitial spaces” within the state. Graeber: “Critchley’s book is important, it seems to me, because it is a kind of overture. It is almost unheard of for professional intellectuals—philosophers, no less—to engage seriously with radical social movements.”

    (Graeber also wrote: “Perhaps the best way to start thinking about these organizations—the Direct Action Network, for example—is to see them as the diametrical opposite of the sectarian Marxist groups; or, for that matter, of the sectarian Anarchist groups… What one might call capital-A anarchist groups, such as, say, the North East Federation of Anarchist Communists—whose members must accept the Platform of the Anarchist Communists set down in 1926 by Nestor Makhno—do still exist, of course. But the small-a anarchists are the real locus of historical dynamism right now”, ‘The New Anarchists’, New Left Review, 13, January-February 2002. Big A little a bouncing b.)

    On Žižek and Lenin, I believe that his ‘Leninism’, whatever its origins and whatever debt it owes to Lacan (for example), accords much more closely to capital L Leninism than you do; certainly, I see no good reason not to regard his formulations or pronouncements on the question of the party as leading to support for the same forms other Leninist might (cf. Chávez).

    On my understanding of ‘class’, I’m not sure what you mean.

    Regarding an online discussion of Infinitely Demanding — yeah, sure. Why not? I’ll let you know when I finally get around to reading it!

  19. @ndy says:

    Sebastian Budgen, Stathis Kouvelakis and Slavoj Ziziek, eds, Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth (Durham and London, Duke University Press 2007)

    Lenin Reloaded… and engaged in friendly fire?
    Benjamin Franks
    Variant, No.31, Spring 2008

    Lenin Reloaded: Towards a Politics of Truth
    David Semple (review)
    February 9, 2008

    Shedding some light on Lenin
    Chris Harman
    International Socialism Journal, No.116, Autumn 2007
    October 1, 2007

    Also:

    “Lenin’s Return”
    Paul Le Blanc
    Review of above and Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is to Be Done?’ in Context, Lars T. Lih, Leidin/Boston: Brill, 2006 and James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928, Bryan D. Palmer, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007

  20. Pingback: Simon Critchley on ‘The Anarchist Turn’ | slackbastard

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