Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Give me Back the Berlin Wall, Give me Stalin & St Paul



Interesting discussions mit Endlose Gedanke und An und Fuer Sich on some of the upshots of Zizek's materialism conference at the weekend. I only caught a couple of papers, but these seemed to crystallise several elements of his (and Badiou's) philosophy that I have always been extremely uncomfortable with - a reclaiming of the Christian tradition, St Paul, Plato, a Leninism that doesn't so much critique as ignore all Luxemburgist/Councilist/Situationist critiques of vanguardism, and a mystical idea that the Augenblick is always just around the corner - in fact becomes antipolitical, a conciliatory sop that the revolution/revelation will somehow appear out of the ether after 30 years of defeats for the Left. The missing 'historical' prefix to our materialism is always necessary, and one should be very suspicious when it gets taken out. As Debord points out in his Commentaries, history and democracy were born in the same place at the same time, and died together too - and some would seem ready to welcome this in the name of their Christian Communism.

17 Comments:

Blogger bat020 said...

What's wrong with ignoring the critiques of vanguardism? It's not as if vanguardism is an even remotely pressing political problem at the moment.

Quite the contrary, the problem - especially in academia - is an omnipresent and stultifying pessimism that all too often wraps its misery up in historicist clothing.

3:51 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Re pessimism, I know - and obviously I'm more inclined to Zizek than Perry Anderson here: but there is (and I think this is concomitant with the mysticism of sudden quasi-religious revolution) a tendency to take it up uncritically. My problems with this are:

1) not necessarily that vanguardism itself is a problem, but that what gets ignored are the political forms that went along with this - a tendency to valorise the Bolshevik Party at the expense of the Soviets, or indeed any model of council communism (which, as you know, I don't think are necessarily hostile to Leninism)

2) The quasi-religious model of Event (which I would blame Badiou's epigones for more than he himself, but regardless) stands in for thought about what historical-political conditions enable the event: how they happen, how they can be prepared for, how they can be steered in particular political directions: and again, my point here is a Leninist one.

4:07 pm  
Anonymous dejan said...

in the name of their Christian Communism.

the real problem is that it's not really Christian COMMUNISM. It's Christian burgeois Communism. Dr. Zizek adopts the self-righteous moralizing imperial socialdemocratic Christianity from the Austrian Alps.

7:09 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Dejan, you know I may agree with you on some of the irksome things about SZ, the suggestion that he is an Austro-Marxist just because he was born closeish to Austria is verging on silly and/or racist. So either stop doing so, or explain in detail exactly what it is that he has in common other than geography or some sort of Alpine air with yer Rudolf Hilferding, Otto Bauer and yer Rote Wien. OK?

7:28 pm  
Anonymous dejan said...

The constitution of the SFRJ (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) as designed by Edvard Kardelj under Tito's tutelage was directly premised on Austro-Marxism. This because the constitution favored nationalisms and particularisms at the expense of federalism (labelled Serbian ''abuse''). The details are to be found in the Serbian SANU memorandum, which though written by Serb royalists, accurately reflects the situation that resulted from the constitution. Dr. Zizek repeatedly defended this constitution against Milosevic's attempts to redefine it (and agreed with NATO and the UN that Milosevic's was an attempt at Serbian suprematism). This was the reason he supported seccessionism in Slovenia. In his fights with director Emir Kusturica, he also called on a suprematist vision of Slovenia as ''the most developed country in the region'' (paraphrase) as a response to Kusturica terming him an Austrian stablemaster (this very derogatory term should be rather telling as well). Because these views are often disguised under ''dialectic reversal'' rhetorics, you might need some time to detect a pattern.

7:49 pm  
Anonymous dejan said...

SANU memorandum in English:

http://www.haverford.edu/relg/sells/reports/memorandumSANU.htm

Austro Marxism and the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina:

http://www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/History/Tucovic.html

8:08 pm  
Anonymous voyou said...

What's wrong with ignoring the critiques of vanguardism? It's not as if vanguardism is an even remotely pressing political problem at the moment.

But a certain image of vanguardism is, I think a problem (perhaps not the most pressing); the parody of Leninism put forward by most of the small far-left groups is probably not unconnected with their uselessness; and this parody of Leninism provides a convenient other against which anarchists etc can define themselves, without thinking as hard as they need to about their own organizational forms. If Leninism can be useful (and I think it can), considering critiques (rather than eulogies or denunciations) of Leninism strikes me as the best way of making use of it, because it prevents easy assumptions that we know what a contemporary Leninism would look like.

8:39 pm  
Anonymous dejan said...

http://www.rastko.org.yu/kosovo/istorija/batakovic/batakovic-kosovo_eng.html

In communist Yugoslavia, the Serbo-Albanian conflicts were only part of the complex concept for resolving the national question which was carried out in phases and in the name of "brotherhood and unity" by Josip Broz Tito. Being a Croat, brought up in the Habsburg milieu marked by the fear of "the Greater Serbian danger" and on Lenin's teaching that the nationalism of big nations is more dangerous than the nationalism of smaller ones, Tito was consistent in stifling any manifestion of "the Greater Serbian hegemony" which, according to the communists, was personified in the regimes of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The first two decades of bureaucratic centralism (1945-1966) were necessary for the communist leadership to avoid the debate on genocide perpetrated against the Serbs during the civil war. The centralism also aimed to consolidate communist power: during that period Tito relied on Serbian cadres (Aleksandar Rankovic) with whom he emerged victorious from the civil war. Among the victims of the State security service (UDBA), headed by Rankovic, as ideological enemies there were Serbs and ethnic Albanians alike. Together with ethnic Albanians who were persecuted for supporting former "Balli Kombetar" nationalist forces (actions of confiscating guns), the Kosovo-Metohija Serbs, especially Orthodox priests, were constantly arrested and monastic properties destroyed or confiscated. The biggest Orthodox church in Metohia, built in Djakovica in the1920s was demolished in 1950, and in its place a monument for Kosovo-Metohija partisans was erected.

The decentralization based on the plans of Tito's closest associates, Edvard Kardelj - a Slovene, author of almost all the Yugoslav constitutions, and Vladimir Bakaric - a Croat, aimed at strengthening the competencies of the federal units, led to the renewal of nationalisms. The creation of the national-communism formulated by Edvard Kardelj as party ideology was directly promoted by Tito himself. National communism made republican and provincial parties the bearers of the national and state sovereignty. National homogenization was imposed, a process that in Kosovo-Metohija took the direction of creating a national state of the Muslim Albanians. Endeavors to create nation-states in areas marked by republican (and in the case of Kosovo-Metohija also provincial) boundaries, was also the beginning of the ethnic and religious discrimination of minority nations within the federal (provincial) entities.

National-communism which emerged in Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia nad Kosovo in thelate 1960's and early 1970's was supoported by Tito in order to preserve his undisputed authority challenged by the reform-orientated 'liberals' in Serbia. In the last phase of Tito's rule, marked by the (con)federal Constitution of 1974, he became, similar to Leonid Brezhnev in the USSR, the main obstacle to any further liberal evolution of the system.

As Tito's only legacy there remained the common, but ideological army, and the bulky party-bureaucratic apparatus, divided along republican and provincial borders. Those borders, although allegedly administrative, increasingly resembled the borders of self-sufficient, covertly rival national states, linked from the inside only by the iron authority of the charismatic leader. The important cohesive element on the international plane was a common fear of a potential Soviet invasion.

9:02 pm  
Blogger Dominic said...

The quasi-religious model of Event (which I would blame Badiou's epigones for more than he himself, but regardless) stands in for thought about what historical-political conditions enable the event: how they happen, how they can be prepared for, how they can be steered in particular political directions: and again, my point here is a Leninist one.

I'm getting fairly tired of hearing this, but don't have an absolutely un-re-rebuttable rebuttal to hand, which suggests that sooner or later something's going to have to give...

My general feeling is that events, er, eventuate:

i) where there are evental sites, in other words where there are crypts or zones of obscurity, quasi-legality, underdetermination etc. in the state, the privileged instance for Badiou and the OP being "illegal" migrant workers,

ii) where within those zones there is organisation, self-recognition, a discourse of the site and the situation that identifies the zone as a zone, analyses its political condition, takes the measure of opposing forces and so on, and

iii) where instead of being absorbed seamlessly into the lexicon of the situation, this new discourse runs up against an antagonism that means that it cannot be "publicly" acknowledged, something like Lyotard's differend where to acknowledge the wrong done to the wronged party would invalidate the legal theory of the oppressor, so that it must instead rely on its own resources of articulation and draw together the forces within the site for support.

(I'm sure all of this can be said in conventional Marxist terminology, incidentally; a virtue of Badiou is that he makes it still sayable even when that terminology is unavailable or rendered problematic.)

The question of "steering", vanguards and so on is vexed in all sorts of different ways, but I think it only arises when a political sequence is already underway - in a sense, yes, the vanguard does have to wait for something independent of it to happen before it can actually function as a vanguard. But what this means is not that one should sit around quietistically anticipating some earth-shattering historical rupture, but that the mode of political activity before the outset of a political sequence is different from the mode of political activity after it (the event itself is the phase transition between these two modes, which always seems abrupt from the point of view of the first). There is plenty to be done!

9:35 pm  
Anonymous doublegenitive said...

Right on, Owen. Such critiques of neo-Leninism are one of the directions toward which I'm putting my energy over at my blog, even as much as I acknowledge the usefulness of Badiou, Zizek, et al, for our current moment. And you're right Bat, that since the elements of the critique of capital are broadly shared by many leftists, the real differences between say, a workerist and a Trotskyist don't really manifest until if and when a certain power has been seized, that's all the more reason to have the conversation now, no? I agree, though, down with pessimism.

11:26 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

The question of "steering", vanguards and so on is vexed in all sorts of different ways, but I think it only arises when a political sequence is already underway - in a sense, yes, the vanguard does have to wait for something independent of it to happen before it can actually function as a vanguard. But what this means is not that one should sit around quietistically anticipating some earth-shattering historical rupture, but that the mode of political activity before the outset of a political sequence is different from the mode of political activity after it

This sounds fair enough.

Dejan, you still haven't answered my question, merely made some points about Yugoslav history - how is Zizek, in his theory, in his actual books, irrespective of his position during the secession of Slovenia, an Austro-Marxist?

1:30 pm  
Anonymous dejan said...

I have no idea about his books, I stopped reading after that disgusting diatribe on the virtues of Muzlim terrorist vitalism versus Western dekline of simbolik efikasy - the Desert of the Real or something.

But take his article on 300, already discussed to death. He makes a very fresh and current association between Marxism and nationalism in there!

Isn't that enough to make you cringe just a little bit, or is dr. Zizek excused from every bipolar reversal he makes just for the sake of some weird British retro-Trotskyist CULT?

5:47 pm  
Blogger love and terrorism said...

Dejan, what cult are you talking about?

8:13 am  
Anonymous dejan said...

what cult are you talking about?

the blogospheric Zizek cult and dr. Zizek's cult in the Western academia

2:28 pm  
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