Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Slavoj Žižek, Marko Attila Hoare, Class War, Peacenik Turks and Some Chess Nazis

"One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.

"Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy."

And so begins Slavoj Žižek, the brilliant, persistently confounding and hilarious Grand Philosopher of Ljublijana, in an essay in the London Review of Books titled Resistance Is Surrender (which I thank Neil for noticing). And what do we find among the variety of ways the Left reacts?

Here's one way: "In today’s triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism." This is closely related to "the ‘postmodern’ route, shifting the accent from anti-capitalist struggle to the multiple forms of politico-ideological struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive re-articulation." Or it retreats even further from reality, opting to "resist state power by withdrawing from its terrain and creating new spaces outside its control."

It reacts in all sorts of ways. But what does Žižek counsel? Stop being impossible, for starters. "The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands," he says.

Marko Attila Hoare argues for a complete abandonment of the paradigm Žižek ponders, in order to heave the Left back on its historic mission, and you start by being clear and conscious and deliberate about where we've arrived: "Through abandonment of the destructive nihilism of ‘anti-capitalism’, ‘anti-Westernism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, a new, progressive left-wing politics can emerge. There is a great revolution worth fighting for, one that - unlike the failed revolution of the Marxists - is rooted in the real world."

It's a global, liberal-democratic revolution that Hoare's on about. Nuts to the reactionary left, with its fey "anti-imperialism" and "anti-capitalism": We are for the revolution; they are for the counter-revolution.

Fighting words, so fair play to him, but to be really fair you'd have to concede that there is a "Left" that is anti-capitalist but is still capable of facing the facts Hoare demands we face. For starters, you could read "Against the Anti-Globalization Critiques" or this treatise, "Regional War in the Mid-East Calls for Class Struggle and Solidarity with Israel." Even the "anti-war" movement has clear thinkers: here's an anti-war movement I can really get behind.

But what's the deal with chess, anyway? Sally Feldman surveys the scene, and reports that in Iraq, the Chess Federation defies the mullaocracy and carries on with its tournament, while in the impoverished Russian republic of Kalmykia, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov squanders a fortune on a “Chess City” complex and forces compulsory chess lessons on every every child over six. Damn guy's president of the World Chess Federation, which runs the big contests in a game the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment considered the embodiment of the Age of Reason. Beating a prince at it caused Jean-Jacques Rousseau to boast he'd proved the rights of man over monarchy. "Marx used to drive his wife to distraction by disappearing for days on end to indulge in chess binges," but Lenin was a sore loser, Maxim Gorky wrote, and “grew angry when he lost, even sulking rather childishly.” The Bolsheviks considered chess a perfect illustration of dialectical materialism, "untainted by bourgeois ideology." The Nazis loved it, but the Jews were way better at it than they were. Way better. And IBM’s Deep Blue proved better at chess than the reigning master Garry Kasparov, but Noam Chomsky says that's no big deal. No more a revelation than “the fact that a bulldozer can lift more than some weight lifter.”

Your move.


Blogger Peter Chen said...

Hi Terry,

This looks like some kind of politcal blog. I am not a political scientist, so don't know if I am qualified. 30 years ago in my country, we were required to take the Cambridge A Level or something like that. Included is General Paper. One of our assignment was to write an essay on democracy. I wrote democracy is rule by the average which may not be the most intelligent. (There is this normal curve which is bell shaped with the huge majority of average intelligence in the middle, a small minority of the very smart on one edge of the bell, and a small minority of the ***** at the other extreme.) I wrote that I would very much prefer a benevolent dictator who have the real interest of his country at heart and act accordingly. He don't have to worry about having to go back to the electorate to get a fresh mandate as then he may be hesitant to implement unpopular policy (the merits of which the average and the **** cannot see). In a democracy, smart politicians implement popular policies which gets him support but which may be detrimental to the country. But God help us if we ever get a dictator who only care for himself, his family, his cronies and power.

We have an interesting example in our country Malaysia and our neighbour Singapore. We have the very smart Lee Kuan Yew who stole my former statistics Dr. CK Cheong to lead Singapore Airlines to become the most successful airline in the world while our Malaysian part (the two was split from Malaysia Air System [I think] when Singapore was kicked out of the federation for pushing for meritocracy) had to depend on our Government (public funds) to survive. See Mother tongue: Why Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said it is important. He was a dictator in an imperfect democracy, but he worked for the interest of his country. Singapore without any natural resource of significance except human capital raced ahead of Malaysia with its abundant resources, but with flawed policies.

We had a similar dictator in form of Dr. Mahathir (don't know if people from your part of the world because he became very popular with the third world for taking pot shots at the mighty US, the West and Israel) who wreck our whole democratic system to the stage that we are now impotent to bring changes except through rallies like Rally for Clean and Fari Election November 10 2007: Report. He was fortunate to have the oil money to cushion the excesses of his ways and Malaysia still enjoyed some sort of prosperity. Don't know what may happen if we don't find any new oil reserves, we become net oil importers (projected very soon) and the ruling elites continue to plunder the country.

Since you have a news column, wondering if you would find this bit about dictatorship and democracy to be a sufficiently topic to merit a discourse in your column.

Peter Blog*Star
Blogger Tips and Tricks

5:23 AM  
Blogger jk said...

Here's a post I wrote on why Chess is the game of the unfree, and Civilization a better game for the free to play.

Peter, democracy isn't just about who's in charge. The most important bit is individual freedoms. Singapore, though well-governed by many metrics, is inevitably filled with brownnoses rather than free people. No dictatorship in history has had healthy individual possibility, because it fundamentally comes down to a big hierarchy toward the top, where the top gets there by better brownnosing instead of by competitive individual competition. I saw Lee Kuan Yew himself grumble about Singapore's lack of entrepreneurialism.

It does take 50 yearsish for new democracies to become stable and prosperous. I know it's hard to bear in the meantime, but each time you see a change of party there's a slight improvement.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Thanks, Peter. But do heed JK.

And I'm very, very happy to have you on board, JK. Great piece there on chess vs. civ.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Peter Chen said...

When Singapore separated from us, we were on par in many things. Now Singapore dollar is RM2.31. There are many other areas where Singapore has overtaken us.

Anyway, I did add "But God help us if we ever get a dictator who only care for himself, his family, his cronies and power"

And India is one of the most democratic country in the world, but went nowhere because of all the infightings. Maybe now they are getting somewhere because of IT, call centers and outsourcing.

Concerned Malaysian Blog*Star
Blog for Positive Changes

1:45 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Peter: I think you're being rather hard on India - it's almost a sixth of the world's population and for all its sufferings and faults it is the world's greatest democracy and its economy is beginning to flourish. And you may be going a bit easy on the authoritarian Singapore regime. I'm no expert, but I have spent some time there and a chapter in my last book is set there. I highly recommend the brave Cherian George and his book, the Air Conditioned Nation.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Peter Chen said...

Hi jk,

Took the time to surf over to your post. Talking about democracy, our ruling elites have taken the art of patronage plus this affirmative policy called the NEP (New Economic Policy) which is supposed to have a limited life span but kept getting replaced by another NEP with a new name and is now nicknamed the Never ending policy or something like that, to their great advantage. It had been used to enriched those in the ruling coaliton, smart businessmen (including the Chinese) who managed to get close to the high and mighty, those who can master support for the ruling party, etc.

US is another democracy. It is an extremely expensive affair to run for office, and it is no wonder that business can use election funds to buy favors. Back the right horse, and you got it made. There are lobbys. We heard our former PM Dr. Mahathir paid millions to have a few minutes meeting with George Bush and shake his hand. What kind of political system you call that?

Peter Blog*Star
Blogger Tips and Tricks

2:04 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

The chess and dictatorship analogies remind me of the time Muhammed ("The Greatest") Ali met Adi Amin, who also considered himself great, and challenged Ali to a boxing match to determine who was the greatest. Ali pondered his odds of living should he win the match, concluded they weren't good, and wrapped his arms around Amin, saying publicly that it wouldn't be necessary to fight because Amin was the greatest and Ali was happy being the second greatest.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

"What kind of political system you call that?"

I'll let JK answer for himself, but it seems clear that an honest response would have to acknowledge that big money has seriously bollixed the American political system. We've more or less beaten the problem in Canada, with spending limits and disclosure laws and so on. If anything, that shows that the flaw yo cite is not a central characteristic of democracy. No doubt millions change hands for audiences with caudillos and tyrants too.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

This is not English:

'"the ‘postmodern’ route, shifting the accent from anti-capitalist struggle to the multiple forms of politico-ideological struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive re-articulation."'

Ya wha? I doubt it's any better in Slovene. "discursive re-articulation" sounds to me rather like a speech by Adolf Hitler.

'Noam Chomsky says that's no big deal. No more a revelation than “the fact that a bulldozer can lift more than some weight lifter.”'

But when that bulldozer gets a brain, whatever its intrinsic linguistic wiring?

Good to hear from you Mr Chen. I don't think Terry will mind if I suggest you take a look at this other Canadian site (small "c" conservative), where I guest-post, "Daimnation!".

Welcome to the discussion, or as some would say, groan, "discourse"--just making an inside the intelligentsia joke.


4:38 PM  
Blogger richard said...

"This is not English" - sure it is, Mark. It's difficult to unpack, sure, but I take Zizek to be characterizing (caricaturing?) the postmodern approach to manufacturing some version of Left: he thinks it emphasizes language (especially self-presentation and the description of those to be supported by this Left), rather than concrete action against capitalism.

The Hitler remark is uncalled for, no?

11:45 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...


Mark C. fell for it. Richard didn't (good man, Richard).

Mark, I figured you'd have cottoned on to the ironic jab at the pomoists with their "multiple forms of politico-ideological struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive re-articulation," but in your defence I will say the eejits actually do talk like that, so you might not have noticed that Zizek was taking the piss, as they say.

Read his essay that way and you'll see how truly hilarious he is.

Dob't be misreading his reference to Chavez, either. . .

Cheers, ye auld tory.


12:57 AM  
Blogger Peter Chen said...

Looks like I am a little out of the league here. Only recently learned some Yankee slangs like kewl, snort. Now got to deal with either Canadian slang or Canadian humor.

And Mark, thanks for the links to Daim Nation. Daim is a millionaire or more likely billionaire because or cronyism or patronage - he developed residential and commercial properties on former govenment land. Wish I have his email address so I can tell him some Canadian have kindly set up a blog for him.

Plus got lots of good ideas to take home for our Islamic car. Thanks.

Peter Blog*Star
Generating Revenue from your Website
(anyone interested in getting something out of their blogging efforts. Google helped me put my 2 sons through colleger)

3:30 AM  
Blogger Peter Chen said...

jk said: "It does take 50 yearsish for new democracies to become stable and prosperous"

We just celebrated our 50th year of independence from British colonial rule. Where do you think we are in now. Google for terms like VK Lingam tape, Eusoff Chin, etc., to go direct to ACA (Anti-Corruption Agency) failed to intimidate PKR. They first demand that the VK Lingam tape be handed over or be jaied, and made appointment to collect it from his office. Last minute cancellation. Next day in the newspaper, "It is Anwar's duty to surrender the tape to ACA's office".

Or refer to this list of posts Religion.

50 years!!!! Should that be enough?

Peter a.k.a. enviroman
Enviroman Says
(floods in England, polar ice and ice caps at moutain peaks melting, I think more severe and frequent hurricanes in US, rain when it is supposed to be a dry season in my country, someone from Queensland recently contacted me if I noticed the weather changing. I replied when I was young I had to sleep under the blanket, but now I sleep topless. If I remembered, he said it is freezing in tropical Queensland and now he has to sleep under a blanket. Please folks, take good care of our one and only Spaceship Earth which have no lifeboat. It may not affect us severely now, but it has every chance of severely affecting our future generations. Then they will have lots to be "thankful to us)

3:48 AM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

richard, transmontanus: Aaarrgh! Sorry about the Hitler jab. Will read the piece when I get my LRB. "Intellectual" life is just too complicated these days.


1:27 PM  
Blogger richard said...

Mark, theoretical language is undoubtedly a pain in the keister. Whatever his position, Zizek has no need to write the way he does, though some do like it. (I don't think he outsells Terry, though....)

4:50 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Now that I think about it. . . for my own familiarity with the contents of the LRB these days, I owe Mark some credit (or blame).


6:58 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Finally got my LRB. I don't know but Zizek rather appears to me a confused Hegelian Leninist-Kleinist with a dose of the Freud Dude (Marx seemingly pretty irrelevant theoretically or practically) with illusions about people who, in effect seize power. Back to Camus, "L'Homme révolté":

"...true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed...

...It was Tony Blair who was able to institutionalise it, or, in Hegel’s terms, to raise (what first appeared as) a contingency, a historical accident, into a necessity. Thatcher wasn’t a Thatcherite, she was merely herself; it was Blair (more than Major...

...Critchley’s anarchic ethico-political agent acts like a superego, comfortably bombarding the state with demands; and the more the state tries to satisfy these demands, the more guilty it is seen to be. In compliance with this logic, the anarchic agents focus their protest not on open dictatorships, but on the hypocrisy of liberal democracies, who are accused of betraying their own professed principles...

It is striking that the course on which Hugo Chávez has embarked since 2006 is the exact opposite of the one chosen by the postmodern Left: far from resisting state power, he grabbed it (first by an attempted coup, then democratically), ruthlessly using the Venezuelan state apparatuses to promote his goals...However, this choice, though risky, should be fully endorsed: 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). What should we say to someone like Chávez? ‘No, do not grab state power, just withdraw, leave the state and the current situation in place’?..

The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil. Since they know that we know it, such an ‘infinitely demanding’ attitude presents no problem for those in power: ‘So wonderful that, with your critical demands, you remind us what kind of world we would all like to live in. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where we have to make do with what is possible.’ The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse."

That last para seems rather limp in light of what came before. I've never been able to take Zizek all that seriously.


1:39 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

But of course. I think I may have correctly characterized Mr Zizek. At the end of the article:

"Slavoj Žižek is a dialectical-materialist philosopher and psychoanalyst. He also co-directs the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck College. The Parallax View appeared last year."

By the way, this "Parallax View" appeared in 1974.


1:50 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

"The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands, which can’t be met with the same excuse."



5:30 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Sounds like what intelligent opposition parties in an effective democracy would do!


5:22 PM  

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