The Red Critique

15

Winter/Spring 2014

"Theory Too Becomes A Material Force":
Militant Materialism or Messianic Matterism?
Stephen Tumino

The Spectral Ontology and Miraculous Materialism
Kimberly DeFazio

Spirit Objectified: The "Austerity" Economics of "New Materialism"
Rob Wilkie

It Is Time To Give Up Liberal, Bourgeois Theories,
Including New Materialist Feminism,
And Take Up Historical Materialist Feminism For The 21st Century
Julie Torrant

 

Žižek's Communist (Hypo)thesis

Žižek's entire writings on communism are a strategy to render socialist revolution as the "impossible to realize" Platonic ideal and to chastise anyone on the left who believes otherwise. His preachings turn communist theory into speculative idealism, rather than materialism, in order to make it as palatable as religion to the ruling classes.

In one of his most recent versions of communism (does Žižek believe in anything other than believing in nonbelieving?)  in an op-ed (The New York Times, December 6, 2013) he writes, "If we merely abolish market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation." In other words, unless we build communism before communism, then any revolution is "doomed" to what he calls "the 'totalitarian' temptation." This formula of a communism which arrives as a fully formed miraculous "event"—a post-historical cyber-communism that defies the historical and moves by "mutation" against the dialectics of history—is what Paolo Virno calls the "communism of capital" (A Grammar of the Multitude). The communism of capital is of course the virtual spectre deployed to ward off the real spectre of communism by marking it under the familiar trope of "totalitarianism."

Who does Žižek cite to defend this formula? Ayn Rand. He writes, "It is easy to ridicule Ayn Rand, but there is a grain of truth in the famous 'hymn to money' from her novel Atlas Shrugged…the moment of truth in Rand's otherwise ridiculously-ideological claim: the great lesson of state socialism was effectively that a direct abolishment of private property and market-regulated exchange, lacking concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production, necessarily resuscitates direct relations of servitude and domination."

In this articulation of the failure of previous socialist movements as lacking "concrete forms of social regulation of the process of production," Žižek dematerializes Marx's argument that communism "is not devoid of premises. It starts out from the real premises and does not abandon them for a moment. Its premises are men, not in any fantastic isolation and fixity, but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions. As soon as this active life-process is described, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts as it is with the empiricists (themselves still abstract), or an imagined activity of imagined subjects, as with the idealists" (The German Ideology). Instead, Žižek's communism is, as Marx writes, "an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself." Unlike Marx, who demonstrated that "the conditions of [communism] result from the now existing premises" (The German Ideology) because existence is shaped by human labor and thus subject to the organization of human labor under particular social relations, Žižek's capitalist communism takes communism as the reality of history and demands that it become a virtual ideal that is virtual precisely because it is never real. In doing so it makes the market the default option against the "totalitarian."

Of course real communism is not an ideal which must remain the "heart of a heartless world" (Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right), or, in other words, that ideal which we ascribe to but to which we never ascend, as in the old religious formula. And nor is it the "totalitarian terror" which puts such fear in the hearts of shame faced liberals. It is the historical demand for bringing about—in socialist praxis (a word missing from the vocabulary of all the liberal "left" communisms today)—what actually exists as a result of human labor: that is, a society in which the compulsion to sell one's labor power has become outmoded and the conditions are in place to establish a global society free of material need. Communism is a necessary/historical demand because it is historically possible.

Indeed, this is why Žižek is asked to write in The New York Times, The Guardian, The.... He is the writer who warns the left not to go too far while promising the working classes eternal happiness in the life-to-come. He is the new pope of the left.

 

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