Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reply to a reader: the bearded ones

My notes posted here a few weeks ago on the Al Jazeera Opinion piece "Zizek and Gaddafi: Living in the old world" by Columbia University Professor Hamid Dabashi have generated a few reader responses. Sadly, most take me to task for the lack of clarity about the quotes I used, and the points I was trying to make. These criticisms were, alas, correct; the initial piece I posted has gone through several revisions and reductions already.

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Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi

The fact that Professor Dabashi's article was carried by Al Jazeera is indicative. Al Jazeera has been a cheerleader on the US-NATO-TNC side in the Libyan civil war. Professor Dabashi equates the Libyan civil war with other popular uprisings in the region earlier this year:

Arab Spring is the renewed ground zero of history, the sight of a world that is beginning to reveal itself, precisely at the moment when the European philosopher sees the world "worldless" because it is not his world - just like Colonel Gaddafi - a world in which he cannot imagine himself, for he has been imagining the world for everyone else. The Arab Spring is the opening horizons of a hope of emancipation, of a renewed reading of world, of worlds. But Zizek does not see it because this is not the world of his making, the visage and force of a world Hegel had delegated to pre-History, non-History. Zizek has already recited the obituary of the Arab Spring, while what appears as a worldless world to the European philosopher is a world he cannot fathom, as it is being inhabited by others he cannot not read.

You Know Who

A couple of points need to be made here. Perhaps in making them, I will also clarify some of the deficiencies in my previous post.

1. The only "ground zero of history" involved is the objective historical and social contradiction today between various particular imperialist states in relation to various particular semicolonial states. The role played by Washington within this context, and the devastating impact of the world economic crisis on semicolonial peoples, is a central contradiction in world politics today.

2. The term "Arab Spring" might be used at AlJazeera and Columbia University, but it obscures more than it illuminates. The long-term uneven economic development and conjunctural combining effects of today's economic crisis manifest themselves in different ways in different states. In Tunisia these factors led to an urban rebellion, sparked by the self-immolation of an economically ruined young street vendor. After several weeks of prevarication, the Tunisian ruling class changed its head of state to prevent greater popular mobilizations. In Egypt, where in recent years trade union struggles have continually overflowed the limits established by Mubarak's rule, Mubarak himself was deposed after weeks of militant popular protest. In Libya and perhaps Syria the uneven and combined contradictions have erupted into civil war, with Washington and its allies unafraid to take sides against leaderships traditionally hostile to imperialism's aims in the region.

3. The popular uprisings in North Africa and the Near East are spontaneous in character, as was the UK rebellion of August 2011. Spontaneous rebellions are powerful but ultimately passing events. To the extent that they do not produce leaderships capable of carrying forward demands that resolve contradictions in favor of the working class and its oppressed allies, they are fleeting and demobilizing as much as they are bold and inspiring. Only in this context can "obituaries" be understood. Zizek himself points this out with this comment about the Greek uprisings: "even in Greece, the protest movement displays the limits of self-organisation: protesters sustain a space of egalitarian freedom with no central authority to regulate it, a public space where all are allotted the same amount of time to speak and so on".

4. The real struggle is ahead of our class in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, and the UK. This is the point Zizek is making in his own superbly infuriating and half-understandable way. London is already tightening the criminal justice screws to prevent the speedy floodtide of future riots. [In many US cities, large assemblies of oppressed youth are already illegal.]

Professor Dabashi also writes,

....just like Gaddafi, Zizek is stuck in his old ways. He cannot believe his eyes, he cannot believe what is happening to him: that his world has ended, not the world; that he (embodying a European philosophy at the losing end of its dead certainties) lives a worldless world, not the world.

Slavoj Zizek
Dabashi seems motivated by anxiety that, for all his Hegelio-Lacanist rhetoric and persiflage, Zizek has put a finger on the central contradiction of these "springs." Zizek and Qaddafi "cannot get hip" with the new reality because there is nothing new about it: nothing new about the class forces involved, and nothing new about the all too brief interregnum of political space after the rebellions. Whether workers in Egypt, Tunisia, and the UK can carve out enough space to take their struggle to the next level will determine whether the 2011 events can be termed a "Spring" or a "Spring Break."

The UK rebellions in August demonstrated the devastating consequences of nearly 35 years of austerity and union-busting. but unless the rebel youth who conducted those magnificent actions can develop a leadership and join with broader forces, their sacrifice and militancy will be lost. The fact of spontaneous rebellion is not a program, or a replacement for program and strategy. Whatever we think of Zizek's LRB article,

Does Professor Dabashi wish we would just go meekly down on our knees, unquestioning before the accomplished fact of "Arab Spring"? If so, he well serves the Qatari plutocrat who funds Al Jazeera, as much as his employers at Columbia University; none of them wanted a spring, and are happy today to use that moniker while playing their role in the US-NATO-TNC war against Libya.

Jay Rothermel

1 comment:

  1. from Dabashi's wikipedia page [for what that is worth]:

    "During the 2008 Presidential election, Dabashi criticized democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama for "falling right into the oldest trap that the American Zionist cabal has in its bag of tricks" and criticized him for giving "Jerusalem to a band of white European colonial settlers," arguing instead that "Jerusalem belongs to Palestinians." Dabashi concluded by writing that Obama's pro-Israel stance "spells out the particulars of his own moral depravity and political cowardice." However, Dabashi stated the Obama was preferable to Republican Candidate John McCain because "even if [Obama] has sold his soul, ... he used to have one. That is not the case with McCain."[16]"