Friday, August 19, 2011
Spontaneous rebellion and the subjective skepticisms of Slavoj Zizek
Passages à l'acte?
Confessions of a Zizek cultist
by Jay Rothermel
If Zizek is looking for the material basis for the UK's rebellion, he need look no further than the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mVxJUeN2TFk
The class reality it expresses needs to be understood as existing for - let us say - a century in every city, town and borough. The experience is as much a part of the life of oppressed nationalities, and especially the youth, in the US and UK as knowing in one's bones that the sun will rise in the morning. Yes, society knows I am its enemy, and society's cops are not taking any chances: they will go out of their way to keep reminding the youth.
These social explosions erupt every few decades because that is all the longer unorganized and un-lead [in any more than an ad hoc sense] fury and rage at powerlessness can build up steam before release. When SZ says the "protest demanded nothing" he is only correct to the extent that the rebel populace had not nailed their demands to the city hall door or run their candidate for office or printed their manifesto in their own newspaper. Capitalism today has no spatial capability to allow a constructive rehearsal and demonstration of such grievances against the foundations of an abominable social system. And today there is no leadership to shape it, and to raise up a broader consciousness of independent class or national struggle. The laughably opportunist MPs for the UK rebel zones despise their electors, and know they are there in a social worker or parole officer capacity to keep the lid on things one day longer.
I agree with SZ when he writes that rebellions such as those earlier this month in the UK emerge from a "....society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out." But this is only a surface appearance. When he writes, "Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative...." I could not disagree more. There is an articulation, and it follows a class dividing line. The UK's capitalist ruling families see the realistic alternative to rebellion in further repression: incarceration of the culprits and the enforced eviction of their families. Were the outrage of this response by the UK rulers not so outrageous, one could write it off as simply cynically Dickensian. And what of a "realistic alternative" on the other side of the class divide? Well, there's the rub. Today there are many activists ready to organize protest, many ready to try to bring the wheels of injustice to a grinding halt. But the solution to the UK rebellion does not lie in more sympathetic policing or the election of new local council members and MPs. It lies in a vanguard organizing and shaping the courageous, ambitious, and selfless energy of rebel youth in Tottenham and all over the UK to end the dictatorship of capital.
According to SZ, the "left faces the problem of 'determinate negation': what new order should replace the old one after the uprising, when the sublime enthusiasm of the first moment is over?" Unless a revolutionary party has won the trust and confidence of the rebel masses, any struggle will crest and subside without sustaining energy. Revolutionary parties provide leadership, education, development of cadre, and the bridge to sustain spontaneous energies over the long term. A mass movement for socialism, for workers power, under the leadership of a revolutionary party that had won the allegiance of the masses, could have radically altered the relationship of class forces in the UK over the last 24 months, and created a political climate where the depredations of cops and broader ruling class austerity drives would not be permitted.
The material basis of spontaneous rebellion, from Tunisia to Egypt, from Greece to the UK, will breed new rebellions. Building mass revolutionary socialist parties to transform these struggles must be the starting point for Marxist-Leninists today. Our irreplaceable role is not so much helping organize and publicize each individual struggle or motion of resistance, but uniting and generalizing the lessons and leadership of such struggles. And figuring out what to do next on the road to workers' power. It is only in this way that the enormous sacrifices by rebels will not be squandered, as they were thirty years ago in the UK, or in 1992 during the LA rebellion in the United States.
SZ's article on the UK rebellions is a series of subjective and skeptical footnotes to an objectively significant and heroic chapter in the spontaneous mass resistance against cop brutality and broader prerogatives of capital. He spends time shaking his head over the short-fall of spontaneous struggles that did manage to move forward dramatically in Tunisia, Egypt, and Greece, but have so far not had the organizational continuity and vanguard class consciousness to truly alter the terms under which the bourgeoisie seeks to rule today. In the end he can only hope and keep his fingers crossed: "one needs a strong body able to reach quick decisions and to implement them with all necessary harshness." The wish for a "strong body" smacks of putchism, and expressly underlines the gulf between a developing rebel mood among the most marginalized portions of the proletariat, creating for the first time in decades the possibility of rebuilding vanguard communist leadership, and the hand-wringing of the radical petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, which can only hypothesize communism.