"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.”