Friday, July 30, 2010

Red Noses

Selma James wrote:



In the Guardian's comment is free blog, Nina Power takes this "clearly" to mean that James was concerned with the "moral value" that capitalist employers of women derived from their "expectations" regarding working women:

what is the moral value in expecting them [women working outside the home] to toil away at the cost of their health and happiness?

This imputation to James of primary concern with the moral state of those whose point of view Power represents (capitalists, propertied professionals) is very far from a legitimate inference from James' and her comrades' statements and activism. Rather it is so gross and unaccountable a misreading of a perfectly straightforward and unambiguous assertion of demands that one is forced to wonder if it is not that Power is semi-literate (though her writing suggests this) but that she is engaged in an effort to mislead to support her previous dismissal of feminism as a "moral discourse" (always unfavourably contrasted - as feminised and therefore degraded - to virile "political" discourses, so James' rather obviously political demands are misconstrued as moralising) accompanying her insinuations about women and immigrants driving down white male wages and negatively impacting the standard of living of the working class as a whole. The result - incoherent, equivocating, insinuating, sense-destroying - is an excellent example of Zizzlocation and Zizzlocution.

Couched in a lot of childish ultra-radical posturing about the need for propertied professionals to achieve personal "fulfillment" by dreaming of "unfathomable" alternative universes, the usual reactionary talking points are paraded by Power as givens and hackneyed patriarchal myths put forward as established facts. Further, Power engages in increasingly popular techniques of debate-infantilisation, assigning idiotic postures to her sock-puppet adversaries as set-ups for her vague, sentimental, applause-cuing outbursts. She presents the absurd binary alternatives of her own childish imagination as if they could serve as a reflection of other people's actual social and political possibilities and their limits. Power asks her readers to choose, for example, between 1. "clinging on to employment at any cost", [a suggestion she attributes to working class militants opposing austerity] and 2. "reconsidering what it means to work at all".

We're all salaried by Universities, after all, and have no responsibilities; we all have nobody depending on us and healthy parents who own a big house outright where we can live and be fed, read and watch television. We're all legal in the country we live in, enjoying healthcare for free, and none of us have criminal records, and everyone we know enjoys the same security and equivalent resources. What better time than when you're out of work to reconsider what it means to work at all? Why try to cling on to employment no matter the cost when you don't even have any to cling on to? What the real radicals who write in the Guardian understand is that unemployment is an opportunity, not a hardship. What's wrong with being unemployed? Okay, okay, but money isn't everything! Why does everyone have to be a "job seeker" with a mortgage, a vibrator, your same sex domestic partner and a solar panel on your roof? That's not emancipation! If you don't have a job you're in an even better position to resist the temptations to consume luxury items, just as if you don't have a vibrator you're going to be less tempted to while your days away "researching" vintage porn and Girls Gone Wild. Closer to subjective destitution, you are closer to your true liberation. Instead of working, you could travel or re-read Kant. The shocking controversial non-conformist possibilities are endless! You could cook your way through Julia Child but with all vegetarian substitutes. There are lots of new tofu-based products. You could start a bondage and domination kibbutz, or go to graduate school for a qualification to think a radically different future with no work for all, not just no work for you. After all it's not all about you, Right to Work Grrrl, it's not all about your job, your debts, your kids, your needs; you could stop being such a selfish bitch.

Of course Power genders the issue of the right to work in the expected fashion; it is not professional men's jobs (sacred, meriting partisans at the barricades when threatened) but working class women's "right to work" that is presented as problematic and indeed damaging to all. Given her allegiance to a macho misogynist backlash that once again advances the image of a monolithic Woman as "a vapid dude-obsessed, pink-clad, consumerist cog" it is not that surprising to see that, having scavenged the reference to James' feminist programme from a criticism of her own propagandistic, irrational and anti-rational anti-feminism in a blog debate and transformed it by misreading for her own reactionary uses, she tacks on at the end a kind of symbolic beating of Selma James by evoking as her heroes and role models those autonomist men who descended on James and her comrades when they marched for women's reproductive rights in Rome in 1975, called them fascists and physically assaulted them. That she begins her piece evoking and simultaneously insulting Selma James, whose analysis she appropriates and Zizzifies Golovinski-style, and ends it with a call to admire hypermasculine ultra-leftists who accomplished little more than to accidentally smother one of their trustifarian number and serve as convenient bogey and cover for P2 and Gladio terrorism and who attacked James' comrades in the street and yanked them around by the hair for their refusal to be subordinated to men, pretty much says it all about Nina Power's self-proclaimed "Marxist-feminism".

It may be a tiny bit surprising that Leninino greets this buffoonery with delight, happy to be assigned a "worthy, classical" "model of work" to go along with a purportedly "rather British" attitude favouring slave labour as character building - that work ethic, also Slovenian of course - and the conviction that "it is enough [for women] to have a job, regardless of what it is". The height of effrontery is Leninino calling this risible performance, with all its Zizekian hanging concessions, prevaricating convolutions, garden path feints and semantic mirages, "the scalpel of socialist feminist critique", when it is rather the iron(ic) mace of post-post-modern digi-interactive-age propaganda. But the pleasure in all this breathtaking nonsense would be less perplexing if you were to suppose the aim was for the Marxist left to make its public image as ridiculous and repugnant - as sexist, racist, ignorant, infantile, and foolish - as possible, appropriate followers of the world's most influential Marxist.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

There is a direct connection between history and power, especially for the oppressed.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Melissa Harris-Lacewell speaking about Shirley Sherrod:

It reminds me very much of the Academy-award-winner of 2004, Crash. I heard this story breaking, and I thought, this sounds like that film to me. If you remember that film, the first act of really horrifying racism occurs when the white police officer puts his hand up an African American woman’s dress, a sexual assault on her. But – in a scene right after that – we see a black woman bureaucrat refusing government services to this police officer’s aging father. The idea in that film, that the movie made …and we embraced it as a country and felt good about awarding the Oscar … is that the police officer and the low-level bureaucrat are the same, all prejudice is equal, this is the thing the NAACP is moved to do, it’s to explain that it is structural racism that matters, not just momentary lapses of prejudice. Even if that tape had been true, it would not have been the equivalency of Jim Crow, to slavery, to institutional racism.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The eternal loop of TIME (magazine's 'marxist critique of sluts, lorettes and hos')

Time magazine’s June 1998 cover featured black-and-white head shots of aging white or fair-haired Susan B. Anthony, Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem, alongside a color photo of youthful TV series cult icon “Ally McBeal”. Under the photographs ran the red banner: “IS FEMINISM DEAD”? The cover article [Feminism: It's All About Me!]by Ginia Bellafante lamented the rise of narcissism and body fetish among contemporary young women, self-proclaimed “post-feminists.” Bellafante criticizes the representations of feminism promoted by female hedonistic “Gen-Xers”, yet she offers her own depoliticizing images by representing “responsible” feminism as white and bourgeois. Established black feminists or feminists of color (such as Alice Walker, bell hooks, Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Chrystos, Paula Gunn Allen) who contributed to women’s liberation struggles in the “second wave” go unmentioned in Bellafante’s report. This suggests that “Is White Feminism Dead?” would have been a more appropriate title for the cover and raises the question: “Why aren’t black women considered feminists?” or more bluntly, bell hooks’s bold query: “How can racist women call themselves feminist?”

Had the author researched more, she would have found that hooks’s writings convey in a more succinct and holistic fashion her own argument about gender venality. In 1991, hooks wrote:

Although the contemporary feminist movement was initially motivated by the sincere desire of women to eliminate sexist oppression, it takes place within the framework of a larger, more powerful cultural system that encourages women and men to place the fulfilment of individual aspirations above their desire for collective change…it is not surprising [then] that feminism has been undermined by the narcissism, greed, and individual opportunism of its leading exponents. A feminist ideology that mouths radical rhetoric about resistance and revolution while actively seeking to establish itself within the capitalist patriarchal system is essentially corrupt. While the contemporary feminist movement has successfully stimulated an awreness of the impact of sexist discrimination on the social status of women in the U.S., it has done little to eliminate sexist oppression.

Bellafante mentions only one black woman – and then as a postfeminist – Rebecca Walker, the daughter if Alice Walker. She describes the former’s body-image anthology To Be Real, as “a collection of airy – sometimes even ludicrous – mini-memoirs explaining female experiences.” Perhaps Bellafante refers to the younger Walker’s anthology only because it includes high-profile white feminists such as Naomi Wolfe. Regardless of why this book was chosen, Bellafante contends that its politics reflect the erosion of the militancy and focus of white feminism as found in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex, Freidan’s Feminine Mystique, and Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics.

That Bellafante considers these texts “radical” seems consistent with TIME’s erasure of contemporary black feminism and radical white feminism. Despite the racial amnesia, class driven feminism, and the artificial schism she wedges between black and “nonblack” feminism, Bellafante does make important points about mainstream feminism. Citing her key literary personas, Bellafante argues that these feminists “made big, unambiguous demands of the world and sought absolute equal rights and opportunities for women, a constitutional amendment to make it so, a chance to be compensated equally and to share the task of raising a family. But if feminism of the 60s and 70s were steeped in research and obsessed with social change, feminism today is wed to the culture of celebrity and self-obsession.” She cites a TIME/CNN poll reporting that education is largely the determining factor in whether a woman identifies as a “feminist” (53% of white, college-educated urban women and 60 percent of white women with postgraduate education and no children consider themselves feminists).

Bellafante traces the current denigration of feminism to Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae and the “syndrome” it inspired among white, affluent females: Female power lies in female sexuality; such “power,” in relation to influential men, transports women beyond “victimhood.” In the “syndrome”, the article maintains, can be found the banality of the “Spice Girls”, the “girl power” of Katie Roiphe’s The Morning After, and Naomi Wolf’s Promiscuities. The arguments in these and similar works are based on “feminine” power, which offers little advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment, full employment, or reproductive rights but many accolades for the “warrior trope” of the seductress. Feminism, when tied to traditional political activism and demands from state authority and institutions for women’s liberation, has lost much of its meaning. In such situations, the term is applied indiscriminately. According to Bellafante:

Female singers like Meredith Brooks and Alanis Morisette are installed as icons of woman power (alongside real artist-activists like Tori Amos) simply because they sing about bad moods or boyfriends who have dumped them. In the late 60s, when the label was applied more sparingly, no one thought to call Nancy Sinatra a feminist, and yet if she recorded These Boots Are Made for Walkin in 1998, she’d probably find herself headlining the Lilith Fair.

Bellafante’s critique says little about the class nature of postfeminist politics and the ways in which self-advancement and gratification are the measures of success for the materially affluent. Most of the young women she criticizes are graduates of Ivy League schools and presumably possess and sense of entitlement and privilege. This is in keeping with the feminist elders – Friedan, Millet – she applauds, who are also beneficiaries of an elite formal education and its attendant privileges. Bellafante blames the shift in emphasis for white, affluent women from activism to sexual displays partly on academe, quoting Barnard College professor Leslie Calman: “Women’s studies, a big chunk of it at least, has focused increasingly on the symbols of the body and less on social action and social change.” The white “Old Guard” feminists are dismayed by their progeny’s depoliticizing, self-obsessive excesses, although supposedly they are only following instruction. Itself preoccupied or obsessed with the young, white female body (enshrined or vilified as seductive siren, from Marilyn Monroe to Monica Lewinsky) mainstream media such as TIME fail to consider the activist role of antiracist feminists. Displeasure and fetish over the display of white “girl power” obscure political issues raised by radical white feminists and other progressives.

Joy James, Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics

The glitziest affair in recent months was a reading of The Vagina Monologues, a performance piece about female private parts by Eve Ensler that attracted Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder and Calista Flockhart, among others. The actresses had come to raise money to fight domestic violence, but the cause seemed lost amid the event's giddy theatrics. Featured were Marisa Tomei on the subject of pubic hair (sample line: "You cannot love a vagina unless you love hair"); Glenn Close offering an homage to an obscene word for female genitalia; and, finally, the playwright delivering three solid minutes of orgasmic moaning. The Village Voice called it "the most important and outrageous feminist event" of the past 30 years.

Fashion spectacle, paparazzi-jammed galas, mindless sex talk--is this what the road map to greater female empowerment has become? If feminism is, as Gloria Steinem has said for decades, "a revolution and not a public relations movement," why has it come to feel so much like spin?

Ginia Bellafante, Feminism: It's All About Me!, Time Magazine 1998

Postures, Impostures

Hoax and white supremacist pseudo-antiracism:
Democracy Now: Shirley Sherrod said that when she had to pull over on the side of the road in Georgia, when she was being told to resign, that the main reason, she was told, was that she would be on Glenn Beck that night.

Hoax and genuine anti-racist public pedagogy:
New York Times: Haitians who suspected that an announcement that France would pay Haiti $22 billion, to make up for forcing the former French colony to pay an equivalent sum in exchange for its independence in the nineteenth century, was too good to be true were proved right on Thursday, as an elaborate hoax was revealed....

Ezili Danto comments:First let me say there are two mistakes in this New York Times blog, one the writer or his editor make themselves, the other is in the statement made by the hoaxers. The title of this piece is France Will Not Repay Haiti Reparations. It's wrong because the debt is not about reparations but restitution. When we get around to asking for the 300-years of free labor and slavery that will be asking for reparations (1503 to 1803) when Haiti won in combat with France, Britain, Spain and over a US embargo. What Haitians are asking for is RESTITUTION of the Independence debt Ayisyen then had to pay to France and other nationalities (including US families in what is now Louisiana/Philadelphia) who owned our grangrans as "their property" even after our grangrans had beat these three nations in combat.

This hoax affords us Ayisyen the opportunity to tell Haiti's history and not the mainstream's colonial narrative. It's a rare chance and a good way to educate the world on France's hypocrisy and heinous avarice.

Hoax and white supremacist revisionism:

Zizek, The London Review of Books:For Kant, even more important than the – often bloody – reality of what went on on the streets of Paris was the enthusiasm that the events in France gave rise to in the eyes of sympathetic observers all around Europe and in places as far away as Haiti, where it triggered another world-historical event: the first revolt by black slaves. Arguably the most sublime moment of the French Revolution occurred when the delegation from Haiti, led by Toussaint l’Ouverture, visited Paris and were enthusiastically received at the Popular Assembly as equals among equals.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Moral Monstresses

Captain Jouenne began his indictment, immediately elevating the proceedings to dizzying heights. Civilization itself was at stake.

The horrible campaign against civilization begun on last March 18, by people who believe in neither God nor Country, as Jules Allix, one of them, proclaimed, must bring before you not only men forgetful of their most sacred duties, but also - and, alas, in great number - unworthy creatures who seem to have taken on the task of becoming an opprobrium to their sex, and of repudiating the great and magnificent role of woman in society.

And what, then, was this magnificent role? That of "legitimate" wife, the object of our affection and respect, entirely devoted to her family whom she served as guide and protectress - she must exercise her influence over man, to maintain his respect for his social duties.

"But if, deserting this sacred mission, the nature of her influence changes, and serves none but the spirit of evil, she becomes a moral monstrosity; then woman is more dangerous than the most dangerous man."

Even though these seamstresses, cleaning women and laundresses could scarcely be mistaken for victims of culture, what Captain Jouenne was putting on trial was education for women:

If they were illiterate, one might perhaps grieve as one damned them; but among these women - and I blush to give them the name of women - we find some who are unable to summon to their aid even the paltry resource of ignorance....While lofty minds (and we must cordially second them) call for that important benefit of education for the people, what a bitter dissapointment is this for them and for us! Among the accused we see schoolteachers. These women cannot pretend that the idea of good and evil was unknown to them.

Edith Thomas, The Women Incendiaries (Les Pétroleuses)

What If?

That Brilliant Critique of Self-Flagellating Politically Correct Liberal Multiculturalism

In Slovenia, around a year ago, a big problem with a Roma (Gipsy) family which camped close to a small town. When a man was killed in the camp, the people in the town started to protest against the Roma, demanding that they be moved from the camp (which they occupied illegally) to another location, organizing vigilante groups, etc. As expected, all liberals condemned them as racists, locating racism into this isolated small village, while none of the liberals, living comfortably in the big cities, had any everyday contact with the Roma (except for meeting their representatives in front of the TV cameras when they supported them). When the TV interviewed the “racists” from the town, they were clearly seen to be a group of people frightened by the constant fighting and shooting in the Roma camp, by the constant theft of animals from their farms, and by other forms of small harassments from the Roma. It is all too easy to say (as the liberals did) that the Roma way of life is (also) a consequence of the centuries of their exclusion and mistreatment, that the people in the nearby town should also open themselves more to the Roma, etc. – nobody clearly answered the local “racists” what they should concretely do to solve the very real problems the Roma camp evidently was for them.

The purported facts here (the illegal Roma 'camp', the man killed, the shooting and fighting, the chicken stealing and baby snatching) are all racist lies but many people believe them. This tale, warning a UK audience already disposed to violent abuse of Roma*, of the mortal dangers Roma really pose to them and of how hypocritical the rich multiculturalist politically correct self-flagellating liberals are to try to stop the decent English indigenous from taking pre-emptive measures of self-defence, comes from a major leftist thinker reporting from his own country. Its fallaciousness does not impair its authority with the fanbase, and its flagrant incitement to racist violence only won the greater loyalty and devotion of the author's white acolytes.

Not one colleague or student has ever publicly objected to this version of events Zizek offers even though it is neoNazi propaganda in the service of the justification of specific racist crimes. The belief in this story, (or its acceptance as a good and useful story despite its unfactuality), illustrates the framework that consumers of this vein of propaganda accept. This framework, which establishes the dilemmas of a peaceloving white native majority faced with a violent harassing and disruptive outsider foisted on them by you wealthy and guilty liberals, is also in use with the majority sympathetic to UK fascism who worry not so much about Muslims taking their jobs or competing for housing but about their evil and alien nature, their unChristian oriental logic, their violent and terrorist "way of life" which you liberals out of politically correct guilt will seek to excuse as the consequence of imperialism. (To prove that you liberals and leftists do make these kinds of excuses for their violence and criminality, the author himself routinely fills the pages of progressive papers with a declaration, speaking as a true Marxist and old fashioned communist, that 'we cannot condemn their atrocities!')

One of the achievements of this propaganda which goes nearly unnoticed (the most powerful and significant propaganda) because of course unrelated to the seeming central subject of this propaganda (immigrants, indigenous) is to establish the ruling class as the referent of "the Left" and the working class as the referent of "the Right". The sabotage of language and its replacement by images going in disguise as language is a key task brevetted intellectuals perform for their patrons and their class.

That you so-called "anti-racists" are privileged and act out of guilt and self-hatred induced by slave morality, you who exhibit the "excessive Political Correctness of the Western white male who questions his own right to assert his cultural identity, while celebrating the exotic identity of others," that you have contempt for the "white working class" and scapegoat them for your racism while forcing them to live with the violent bastard others you made and now out of guilt favour over your legitimate white children, that Muslims are indeed terrorists and intolerant, homophobic and self-segregating, rejecting the objectively superior culture and values of the generous enlightened white liberal nations who have warmly welcomed them and spurning our offered love, are all propositions accepted by large numbers of people, left, centre and right alike, as incontestable facts rather than as incoherent, manipulative narrative and gibberish punditry.

*A report by the Information Centre About Asylum and Refugees in the UK (ICAR), Media Images, Community Impact, (2004) affirmed that, while it is notoriously difficult to establish causal relations between news items or television programmes and audience actions,“inaccurate and unbalanced reporting is commonly suspected by refugee support agencies, community groups, local authorities, the police and researchers to contribute to racist attacks on asylum seekers and refugees and to being a barrier to integration because of the feelings of insecurity and isolation which it engenders” in new arrivals. “We have been told,” one refugee agency worker said, “that a negative article one day equates to a fist in the face the following day."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Helpful Illustration

The difference between Judaism and Islam is thus ultimately not substantial, but purely formal; they are the same religion in a different formal mode (in the sense in which Spinoza claims that the real dog and the idea of a dog are substantially one and the same thing, just in a different mode.)

Don't get it? Maybe this will help:

Barefoot boys, clutching kites made out of scraps of paper and ragged soccer balls, squat a few feet away under scrub trees. Men in flowing white or gray galabias—homespun robes—smoke cigarettes in the shade of slim eaves. Two emaciated donkeys, their ribs protruding, are tethered to wooden carts with rubber wheels.

It is still. The camp waits, as if holding its breath. And then, out of the dry furnace air, a disembodied voice crackles over a loudspeaker.

"Come on, dogs," the voice booms in Arabic. "Where are all the dogs of Khan Younis? Come! Come!"

I stand up. I walk outside the hut. The invective continues to spew: "Son of a bitch!" "Son of a whore!" "Your mother's cunt!"

The boys dart in small packs up the sloping dunes to the electric fence that separates the camp from the Jewish settlement. They lob rocks toward two armored jeeps parked on top of the dune and mounted with loudspeakers. Three ambulances line the road below the dunes in anticipation of what is to come.

A percussion grenade explodes. The boys, most no more than ten or eleven years old, scatter, running clumsily across the heavy sand. They descend out of sight behind a sandbank in front of me. There are no sounds of gunfire. The soldiers shoot with silencers. The bullets from the M-16 rifles tumble end over end through the children's slight bodies. Later, in the hospital, I will see the destruction: the stomachs ripped out, the gaping holes in limbs and torsos.

Yesterday at this spot the Israelis shot eight young men, six of whom were under the age of eighteen. One was twelve. This afternoon they kill an eleven-year-old boy, Ali Murad, and seriously wound four more, three of whom are under eighteen. Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered—death squads gunned them down in El Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumple onto the pavement in Sarajevo—but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Engels Does Colbert

In 1857-58 Marx and Engels wrote reports on the armed revolt in India for the New York Daily Tribune. In an article in January 1858, Engels covered the relief of the siege of Lucknow. In it Fred discussed the report submitted to the Governor-General by Brigadier Inglis, who commanded the relief expedition. Fred analyzed two of the general’s claims. First that the general and his troops had displayed extraordinary bravery under extraordinary circumstances and second that the British inhabitants of Lucknow had suffered extraordinarily under the siege.

In the following passage, Fred concludes his examination of the general’s remarks on the bravery of the British soldiers and then proceeds to consider the ordeal of the British civilians.

"… all these observations compel us to acknowledge the whole of this report is full of the most glaring exaggerations, and will not stand cool criticism for a moment.

But then surely the besieged underwent uncommon hardships? Listen:

“The want of native servants has also been a source of much privation. Several ladies have had to tend their own children, and even to wash their own clothes as well as to cook their scanty meals entirely unaided.”

Pity the sorrows of a poor Lucknow lady! True, in these times of ups and downs, when dynasties are made and unmade in a day, and revolutions and commercial crashes combine to render the permanency of all creature comforts most splendidly insecure, we are not called up to show any great sympathy if we hear of some ex-queen having to darn her own stockings, and even to wash them, not to speak of cooking her own mutton-chop. But an Anglo-Indian lady, one of that vast number of sisters, cousins, or nieces to half-pay offices, Indian government writers, merchants, clerks, or adventurers, who are, or rather were, before the mutiny, sent out every year, fresh from the boarding-school, to the large marriage-market in India, neither more nor less ceremoniously, and often far less willingly, than the fair Circassians that go to the Constantinople market – the very idea of one of these ladies having to wash her own clothes and cook her scanty meals entirely unaided – entirely! One’s blood boils at it. Completely without ‘native servants’ – ay, having actually to tend their own children! It is revolting – Cawnpore [where after a siege the insurgents killed the European inhabitants] would have been preferable."

I had wanted to post this passage at the same time I posted “Bombard the Headquarters,” but ran out of time. After the discussion of Zizek and Power over the last week, I’m glad I did. One quote, one paragraph of commentary. A critique of bourgeois marriage and the marriage market. A critique of colonial privilege. A critique of masculine self-righteous presumption regarding both. Conceptually connected. And funny.

It’s just not that hard.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The BBC's Marxism

"If Karl Marx came back today, he'd probably still be a philosopher, but would he also be a film critic and a psychoanalyst?" Unbelievably, the visuals show Marx transforming into Zizek, affirming the reincarnation. "Zizek," the BBC's Paul Mason informs the audience as his face emerges from the portrait of Marx, "is probably the world's most influential Marxist." He's risible, an X-Files fanatic, but harmless; the weapons he recommends to his acolytes for their struggle to topple the existing global order are "psychoanalysis and a season ticket to your local cineplex." In an interview that follows, the BBC's audience gets to hear more of what the world's most influential Marxist has to say. His fascinating insights include a remarkably original philosophical claim that communism was "worse than fascism" because communists pretend to be nice and are really evil whereas fascists wear Pure Evil t-shirts with information on calories, sodium, etc.. by imperial and metric measures to identify themselves.

At Marxism 2010, Zizek explains how industrial strikes in China are being incited by the communist party and that while of course he "thinks [BP is] disgusting" and isn't on their payroll (whoooohoooooo!!!!), still it would be "completely ridiculous" and "easy" "personalising" "stupid anti-capitalism" to "make them pay" or "screw them" - the US treasury and US public alone should pick up the check for the damage. That would be, he explains, "a communist response".

You know those people who criticize the twin brothers, these two versions of State Socialism, the Western welfare state and Stalinism they usually do it from a dream of councils, soviets, immediate democracy and so on and so on. I claim that that one also has to be abandoned. This was the big dream which died ... I claim this is an illusion.

There is inexplicable guffawing, applause and hooting over his every idiotic word, however mundane or foolish. Perhaps the most puzzling round of applause he earned was for declaring there was no working class in Congo. The gathered communist conference participants sound rather like the prompted audience in Studio 8H than anything else.

The Zizz, Badiou, the reassertion of the obsolete genre of academic philosophy over the social sciences and this disquieting, bogus neo-Universalist discourse about "the idea of communism" seems to have something to do with the long transition of the world system from capitalism to the next thing and the effort to steer it away from democracy and socialism toward a notion of communism as the direct despotism of the current ruling class and its elites similar to Plato's Republic.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Madonna's Return To Patriarchy And White Supremacy

So I did get into a few spats over at The Tomb again. And in defence of Nina "ain't I a comminist" Power's One Dimensional Woman, Leninino accused me of witchhunting and basically of being unconcerned with serious matters, touching only incidentally on such things as oppression, imperialism and exploitation in the course of "sectarian" persecution of leftist heretics.

Of course I think this is very unjust though I suppose sometimes how things happen here in this virtual scene, where I am chabert, it could seem that way. (I assume this marathon battle is the main exhibit of my Torquemadism, my victim here Linda Melvern, which put me beyond the pale. Ironically I nominated the post under which I conducted the auto-da-fé for a web journalism award!)

But really of course no specific individual or book is itself significant - it is only as examples and components of a massive cultural reaction, getting more fascistic by the day, that Zizek's, Power's, Badiou's or Hatherley's work is of the least interest. They don't sing or dance after all.

The reaction in ideology, the return of white male supremacism to nominally "left" discouse, is made up of nothing but a lot of insignificant widely consumed texts like Avatar, The Wire, and the amazingly racist and sexist War, Inc., and an immense mass of less widely consumed stuff like One Dimensional Woman and First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, articles in the New Left Review by Hatherley and Zizek, as well as the numerous "left" pieces, by Cohen, Hari, BHL, and others, picked apart with tweezers and magnifying glass by Leninino himself in his first book. The Zizz/Badiou circle are becoming really an avant-garde of racist and sexist reaction on the self-styled left, and for this reason their work is particularly interesting to me. It's not that I don't think Madonna's return to patriarchy and white supremacy is more important, or that I don't see that Avatar and 300 are...(well, perhaps they are less influential really on those who consume them than something like a Wendy Brown tract)... than Nina Power's or Toni Negri's patriarchal and white supremacist writings. It is simply that everyone is commenting on Madonna, and Lady Gaga, and it seems worthwhile to me to show how the reaction they lead is being accomplished by, and requires, many many smaller efforts, an army of culture workers, spinning topoi and themes into many products with a certain necessary diversity to be consumed by the diverse tastes of a diverse humanity. Without their work naturalising the reactionary discourses, re-creating the intelligibility of sexist and racist codes that for at least one generation became genuinely incomprehensible, re-establishing their acceptability and ubiquity, and policing the borders of culture production, the leaders, the big guns of reaction, are rendered helpless and pointless. For Madonna to lead a reaction (and not instead simply de-legitimise herself), with other major ruling class mass media entrepreneurs, to create an atmosphere where at one end of the cultural spectrum a leftist celebrity intellectual is evoking "half-ape blacks" to a wildly cheering white crowd while at the other end the tabloid press and tabloid teevee is likening the President of the US and his wife to chimps and gorillas, with much in between amounting to a general cultural shift in mythology as well as standards of civility, and a general re-establishment of patriarchy and white supremacy, Madonna and others in her stratosphere need the support not only of hundreds of middling celebrity intellectuals and culture producers like Zizz and Lars von Trier but of hundreds of thousands of little ideological soldiers like Power, to do little jobs like subject bell hooks to racist sexist ridicule and to re-popularise the monstrous image of the selfish masturbating slut who sleeps with the enemy and The Enemy and is the damnation of mankind that always emerges in times of economic depression. Power makes fashionably flexible use of an image of the sinfully sexual young woman, and ignoring (as does Nancy Fraser as well) that the important divide in feminism is (unsurprisingly) the class divide, and refusing (unlike Fraser) to recognise any feminists apart from the bourgeois feminists she can't name as such, she manages in the flimsy guise of a radical and daring unmasking of "consumer feminism" and "upbeat American feminism" (her apologetic labels for bourgeois white feminism) and its "complicity with capitalism" (her confused conception of its capitalist class politics) to scapegoat women and feminists not only for sexism and misogyny but for capitalist exploitation and imperialism. In the same vein of deflection and neutralisation of radical feminist critique of capitalist patriarchal white supremacy, her book laments that Shulamith Firestone's work is "deplorably neglected" without feeling the need to mention or acknowledge that the reason Firestone's major book, unlike her contemporary Kate Millet's work, has fallen into disfavour in American feminist circles is that anti-racist feminists like hooks and Angela Davis succeeded in making her extreme white supremacy (the final expression of a repudiated tradition of feminist "utopian" eugenics (pdf) and "futurist" technocratic colonialism associated before Firestone with Margaret Sanger and Charlotte Perkins Gilman) unacceptable even in bourgeois feminist realms. White supremacist capitalist politics even within radfem feminism were once sucessfully driven back by radical anti-racist feminist socialists. But the tide has turned and it may not be long before, flying a radical Left standard or another kind, a new generation of white feminists restore to acceptability the fretting over the "dangerously prolific reproduction" of the barbarians whose fertility needs to be controlled by an enlightened elite of benevolent "engineers" to eradicate the social pathologies explained by such "arguments" as Firestone's "Freudian family" fable of "race relations" (which resembles many a Zizekian musing about Jews or Muslims) or Brownmiller's suggestions that the Scottsboro Boys and victims of lynching were undoubtedly guilty after all.

Leninino I think knows very well that persecuting individuals for heresy is always an accusation one can make of any critic of any text's disavowed reactionary ideology, because any persuasive case about cultural and discursive matters, about ideology, is obliged to read texts, to chose and be specific. Avoiding this is always motivated by some ulterior motive, careerist colleagiality or to disguise the fallaciousness of one's charges. If you accuse a text of doing the ideological work of reaction, you are obliged to show how it does so, and what is required in such demonstrations - both close analysis and totalising synthesising interpretation - invariably can be caricatured as obsessively tenacious or whatever. Any interpretation can be accused of misreading, and any defence of an interpretation against such an accusation will appear dogged.

There is finally no line whatsoever between reading and nitpicking when it comes to exposing a text's racism, misogyny and orientalism; so rare is the overt statement of white supremacy that when it appears - (as in Zizek fairly frequently) - those disposed to apologise for subtler forms simply insist it really must mean something else. So context too is essential. No text is really a discrete object, and texts are now more open than ever, rarely read or watched/listened to in their entirety in order, and the way the white male supremacist revival is happening today involves a canny use of our mass media, its incessant and fragmented flow, to distribute the elements so that few individual texts bear in themselves all the parts necessary to identify the whole.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Idea of Communism: From A to Z

In late June, Zizek took the show on the road to Berlin. At the conference, ‘The Idea of Communism’ he rocked the stage with his collaborator Alain Badiou. Over three days 55€ bought you the gamut of communism from A(lain) to Z(izek). Theorie als Praxis, an audience member, has subsequently posted a statement she made in the closing discussion. The statement makes points about the philosophical posture of this ‘communism’ that will interest readers at Qlipoth.

Bombard the Headquarters of the Philosopher Kings, or: Do we leave them their old age home in the Ivory tower of universalism?

What’s the deal with “The Idea of Communism”? – that’s the question you might want to ask after the conclusion of the communism conference that met under that very name at the Volksbűhne in Berlin. One thing is for sure: at the congress the universal in contradistinction to the particular was ever present. And something structural was evident too: among 17 presenters there was only one woman.

In the following I document my – slightly revised and expanded – statement in the closing discussion of the congress.

The universal was the dominant theme of the congress. In that connection, most of the presenters plead for the universal, commonality, equality and displayed a disdain of the particular. There was criticism from the public and from others referring to Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Program, where Marx saw communism as being characterized not by equality, but by the satisfaction of diverse needs (To each according to his needs.). Lenin agreed vehemently in State and Revolution, and declared the equation of communism and equality to be a distortion of communism by “bourgeois professors”. Is that exactly what the presenters at the conference were?

In his preference for a universal commonality Alain Badiou appealed to Lenin’s distinction between political and purely trade union struggles. For Lenin, trade union struggles were particular, political struggles were universal. But what Badiou overlooks is that Lenin defined political struggles as not just being conducted for improvements within the wage system, but as being based on the “recognition of the irreconcilable opposition of the interests [of the workers] to the interests of the entire current political and social system.” And this struggle is defined negatively too, it is directed against the “current political and social system.” Likewise, the struggles against “the persecution of the sectarians, the mistreatment of the peasants, the rampaging of the censor, - the abuse of soldiers, the persecution of even the most harmless culture endeavors etc,” are ‘struggles against’; struggles against persecution. Lenin does not postulate the necessity of something like a positive communist religion. For Lenin communism is not an earthly paradise of universal commonality. Instead, it is the concrete and negative struggle against any form of domination and exploitation, not a new ideal order; not an end of history.

In the same sense, I would like to turn against universalism a sentence of Althusser’s about humanism: Althusser said, the word humanism kills the class struggle. The universalism that was propagated here for three days likewise kills the class struggle, kills feminist struggles, kills anti-racist struggles. Social struggles are struggles between particular interests; revolutionary struggles are struggles that do not resolve themselves with a compromise between rulers and those they rule, between exploiters and those they exploit. And above the particular antagonistic interests in struggle there is no universal that can ultimately resolve the antagonisms in a philosophical synthesis.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels had already formulated a critique of the utopian socialists, that, when you get down to it, holds for today’s universalists: “They believed themselves to be elevated above the contradiction between classes …, they want to improve the conditions of the lives of all the members of society. Consequently, they appeal unremittingly to society as a whole without distinction, by preference, in fact, to the ruling class. You only need to understand their plan to recognize it as the best possible plan for the best possible society.”

For three days they have been telling us that you only have to take the point of view of humanity (instead of the point of view of animals [of pigs]and see that communism is the universal.

This disdain for the particular vis-à-vis the universal appears to me to be the reason why feminists want to have nothing to do with the communism, the holistic communism propagated here. Since universalism as the ideology of those who rule, which muffles social contradictions and places them under the mastery of philosophy, has a considerable attraction for men, who – even if they are communists – are among those who rule in the patriarchy.

I would like to put it in the words of the Chinese Cultural Revolution: We have to bombard the headquarters, bombard the headquarters of these philosopher-kings if communism is supposed to become interesting for feminists, if communism is not supposed to become, once again, an ideology of those who rule, if it is not supposed to become, once again, one of the “all too complete world views” criticized by Brecht.

Both Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek responded to the preceding statement. Alain referred me to National-Socialism, which was a philosophy of difference par excellence, the differentiation between humans and sub-humans. And Slavoj saw in liberal feminists’ support of the Iraq War (it seems to me the Afghanistan War would be the more apt example) evidence of the damaging consequences of particularist feminism.

National-Socialism was not just a philosophy of difference. It was also an ideology of the Volksgemeinschaft [trans. note: Volksgemeinschaft= “the racialized national community of the people’; Gemeinschaft concretely means community here, but the same term in its abstract sense is translated as ‘commonality’ above] that – like every attempt to define a community positively – entails exclusions. The correct response when National-Socialists declare you an enemy is not to request membership in the Volksgemeinschaft or to propose a ‘real’ Volksgemeinschaft to the Nazis as an alternative. The correct response is to pick up your weapon.

As far as the liberal feminists are concerned – advocating the war in the name of particular interests is exactly what they don’t do. What they do, they do in the name of the universal ‘value’ of equal rights. Doing so shows exactly what the error of universalism is from the perspective of the critique of ruling orders. It is paternalistic and imperialist self-authorization to act for others – to bestow ‘liberation’ from ‘outside’ or from ‘above’ on them. But the communists of the First International already knew: the liberation of the working class can, first and foremost, only be the creation of the working class itself. And the liberation of Afghan women and queers can first and foremost only be their own creation. The best support that the feminists in the USA, Germany, etc. can provide is not the propagation of universal ‘values,’ but the overthrow of their own patriarchy and their own imperialism.

–In retrospect, the only thing still left to consider is whether we really need to bombard the headquarters of the philosopher-kings – or can we leave them their old-age home in the ivory tower of universalism?