19 November 2010
Politics, in Theory
Slavoj Žižek, in his 2007 article "Resistance Is Surrender," says "capitalism is indestructible." To resist it is to surrender to its nigh-universal co-optivity. The way to deal with capitalism is to manhandle it. The Chinese and Hugo Chavez are contemporary exemplars who are showing us the way to co-opt the mechanisms of the state for the purposes of bending the capitalist system to our purposes: an authoritarianism of the Left.
Along the way, Žižek takes the time to critique Simon Critcheley's recent book, Infinitely Demanding, and its call "to resist state power by withdrawing from its terrain and creating new spaces outside its control."
In his response, "Violent Thoughts About Slavoj Žižek," Critcheley claims he is not so soft. He discusses what he thinks are appropriate forms of anarchic violence in the struggle against the state. Revolutionaries and resisters to states—anarchists—should take to heart the biblical injunction against killing ("Thou shalt not…"), but should decide for themselves whether to obey it; it's more like a guideline (or 'plumb-line') than a rule. And a posteriori they should be prepared to take responsibility for their violent actions in abolishing the state and replacing it with some unspecified form of federalism. For Critcheley, "the activity of politics is working within the state against the state in an articulation, an inventive movement, the forging of a common front that opens a space of resistance and opposition to government and the possibility of significant political change."
For Žižek, law is an institutionalization of violence wielded exclusively by the state. Violence in response is, thus, a given. As are, by implication, the means to back-up one's use of force with sufficient violence to vanquish one's opponents, foes, and enemies. An a priori decision for non-violence in resistance to the state is surrender.
For Critcheley, the decision whether to employ violence is a subjective calculation best employed in overturning the rule of law. In place of a state-organized and -enforced capitalist economy, he argues for a "law against law." His vision of "anarchism does not requires [sic] the violence of contracts or indeed constitutions, but aims at the extra-legal resolution of conflict, [citing Walter Benjamin's ‘Critique of Violence’ here] ‘Peacefully and without contracts’, as he writes, ‘On the analogy of agreement between private persons.’" Thus: private parties pursuing their private interests kindly and respectfully, that is to say pacifically, resorting to violence only when each subjectively feels it necessary. But what sorts of private party divides does he envisage here? Regionalism? Tribalism? Racialism? Factionalism? Sectarianism? None of which either separately or in some admixture, I dare say, is a recipe for a pacific society.
If capitalism is a given, is the state necessary? Yes, says Žižek, and we should capture and control it. No, says Critcheley, there are (or ought to be) viable political alternatives. Neither response—authoritarianism or anarchism—I'm afraid, is wholly satisfactory.