Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

 

From the rise to power of right-wing groups in Europe, the defeat and co-opting of Bernie Sanders in the status quo of the Democratic party and the rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea, such current events will push anyone to ask “where were the leftist movements that passionately fought for everything?” or “why the left continues to fail at its struggles only for far more worse events to take place?”, Slavoj Zizek’s comments on the failure of the left should not be taken as a reactionary jab at current left-wing struggles, but a clear and present practice of criticism and self-criticism. With such a wide ranging movement that the term “left” means, one gets lost in the quagmire of different opinions that contain either a dialectical or un-dialectical understanding of our current situation. The fall of the Soviet Union along with the dissolution of other communist states goaded some leftists the opportunity to re-write and re-consider some of the old ideological stances and replace them with more inclusive theories and affirm the necessity of remaining within the logic of liberal democracy.

Capitalism, in the understanding of a grand system of labor relations and private ownership controlling the flow of commodities and raw materials, is no longer the theoretical bogeyman; the words US Imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism are discredited as merely slogans of a passé passionate politics that have to give way to “rational” liberal democracy. Leftist theory (from the agonistics of Chantal Mouffe to discourse theory of the postmodern and post-colonial left) is less preoccupied with alternatives but with reforming the democratic system to become more “deliberative”, rational and open. The struggles of old make way for cooperation within the cozy offices of the Parliament building and organization of various civil sectors relegated to valid party-list groups or non-government organizations that would function outside of the state system or even function as a gap-filler to what the state lacked. Such a move is justified as a way to integrate the excluded ones into a supposedly more inclusive democracy. To allow such to happen is it not necessary to reject the cliché in the guise of the communists, the last remnants of a bygone era? What is to be affirmed and held with rigor is the multiplicities of reason, various narratives that unfold simultaneously to each other and functioning within a currently established liberal democracy. The enemy in this case is vague; to the post-colonialist, it is Western hegemony; to the identity politician, it is the hegemonic discourse that prevents peoples to exercise their chosen identities (be it Patriarchy or the dominant scientific rationality). It is enough to say that in the dominant reason there is a singularization and an enforcement of certain cultural norms, repressing the uniqueness of one’s own reason. There is no class conflict here, just the struggle against the dominant and the imperative to openness and dialogue, acting as a medicine to our monologue society.

What is wrong with this theory is precisely its mystification of multiplicities; this way we lose sight of what really causes the global phenomena of exploitation under global capitalism. While the proposed alternative is to return to our post-colonial ethos and relation to the earth (recall how our liberal academicians would love to cite Heidegger), seeing ourselves within an immense universe in the great chain of being with a proper place on earth; it fails to see itself within the ideological coordinates of global capitalism. Its attachment to the system of liberal democracy only serves to demonstrate that our current (supposed) left-wing academic theory “wants to have a cake and eat it,” without realizing that any attempt at radically changing our current predicament requires a lot of risks, examination of current conditions, and the courage to organize and resist, while at the same time rejecting obvious alternatives. While conscious of past mistakes, a communist knows that the struggle requires a constant experience of failure and failing better until a successful alternative is achieved. Our current liberal intelligentsia sees the search for an alternative as a futile attempt at achieving a desired utopian end, settling for the vicious circle of democracy’s oscillation. It is evident that with the almost unfettered rise of the right-wing quasi fascist movements, we can no longer rely on the democratic system to decide the fate of nation-states. From a more theoretical level, we can no longer systematically accept the postmodern discourse, rejecting a singular unfolding of narrative. Rather, our singular narrative is contained in the universal struggle of the exploited from the exploiter; at the end of this struggle is the toppling of the very system that allows poverty and exploitation to occur. Global capitalism thrives in multi-culturalism and nationalism, seeing that the attempt to de-colonize our culture keeps the intelligentsia in check i.e. to remain in the universities, exchanging witty philosophical remarks, barking at each other over who can make a more rigorous noise, while pandering on radicals, seen as nostalgically attached to the passé ideologies of old. That is one of the risks being an avowed Marxist-Leninist in the university. When forming the party is seen as militantism and a theory based on class struggle as un-dialogical, closed to the myriads of options out there. Perhaps, being closed and loyal to the convictions of the cause is better than engaging in speechifying sophistry of academically accepted ways of theoretical resistance.

What is basically wrong with the left? It has transformed itself mainly as a university discourse, producing variations on any allowed theme but as long as it remains within the production of essays and commentaries. For that reason, even among bourgeois students of philosophy Karl Marx is admired only by the scope of his research and the applicability of his thought in various research endeavors. However, if we move outside of the production of essays to the actual work of doing theory (i.e. not merely as writing an essay but the actual analysis of material conditions within the exploitative nature of capitalism) in light of informing current revolutionary movements, they are ready to cast it aside as a futile political project. If they (and ourselves included if need be) remain within the confines of their academism, perhaps Zizek is right to reprimand us of our complacency.

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Where do we Stand? Responding to Slavoj Zizek’s Remarks on the Failure of the Left

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