Thursday, February 20, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Thursday, January 30, 2014
A new report in Science News Magazine (1-25-2014) by Bruce Bower details a reevaluation of the view that the Rapa Nuians, the native inhabitants of Easter Island ( Rapa Nui ), were responsible for the collapse of their population and society due to over exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of the rain forest on their island, a view recently popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse (2005).
As Bower reports, the anthropologist Maria Mulrooney has published the results of her studies of the Rapa Nui culture (Journal of Archeological Science, December 2013) based on new radiocarbon dates from archeological sites on the island. She has concluded that after the clear cutting of the forest in the 1500s, to make room for agricultural production, the population of Rapa Nui remained sufficiently vibrant to carry on food production and continue their cultural development.
Exactly when the Rapa Nui arrived on Easter Island is unknown but it was on or before 1200 A.D. or so. Mulrooney maintains they had a thriving culture which was still going strong even after their "discovery" by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday 1722. This would indicate that they had not suffered"collapse" as a result of forest clearance.
Roggeveen reported that the island had about 2000 to 3000 inhabitants he was the first to report on the moai-- the giant statues (erected as religious symbols as part of an ancestor cult) for which the island is famous. They were all in place and standing when he was visiting the island (for less than two weeks). In his short time there he managed to kill a dozen or so natives and so his estimate of the population may be incorrect as many people fled and hid out until after he left.
The Spanish showed up in 1770, claimed the island for King Carlos III, then sailed away. The moai were all standing and the people were still engaged in agriculture. Captain Cook showed up in 1774 and noticed some of the moai had fallen but there was no sign of cultural "collapse."
Bower quotes Mulrooney as saying, "Deforestation did not equal societal failure on Rapi Nui. We should celebrate the remarkable achievements of this island civilization"
Yet the culture did end up almost completely destroyed. After Capitan Cook's visit Europeans visited more regularly in the 19th Century. It has been suggested that Rapa Nui's decline may have been caused by the introduction of European diseases. By the early 1800s most of the moai been toppled and the society had broken up into warring factions.
Peruvian slavers invaded in the 1860s and carried away 1500 of the 2000 or so Rapa Nuians into bondage in the mines of Peru. By 1878 only 111 natives were still living on the island. 97 per cent of the cultural memory of the people had been lost after contact with the Europeans. The greatest loss may have been that of rongorongo the native writing system of Rapa Nui and the only writing system created by any Polynesian group. All of those who knew the writing system died in the mines of Peru or from European introduced TB which ravaged the survivors.
Chile annexed the island in 1888. The Rapa Nui were given citizenship in 1966 but they no longer rule on their island. Of the 6000 or so people living on the island today about 3600 are Rapa Nui. The archeologist Carl Lipo is quoted as saying, "The idea of societal collapse on Rapa Nui has long been assumed but there is no scientific basis for it." He is referring to a self induced collapse. Their traditional culture was destroyed, and the people today are trying to reinvigorate it, but it is a bum rap to blame them for the loss of their civilization.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Chapter One Sections 2 & 3.
2. "Special Bodies of Armed Men, Prisons, ETC."
Still basing himself on Engel's Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,
Lenin points out that the state is the first form of society exclusively to base itself on a given territory as opposed to tribal societies and bands which can move about and change locations while searching for food and shelter. This is the first innovation of the state.
The second is that the state sets up a source of power independent of the general population. The Roman state, for example, maintained an army as opposed to tribal societies such as the Gauls and Germans in which all the able bodied men were warriors. The public power of the state includes prisons, courts, an educational system and, Engels says "institutions of coercion of all kinds." However, Lenin stresses that, "A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power." Today we can see that while the bulk of the armed forces and police are recruited from the 99%, they are controlled by, and serve the the interests of the 1%.
This is the case because every state "is split into antagonistic, and moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic classes" so that the dominant class must control the instruments of state power to remain in control. This is denied, of course, by all the ruling class factions. In the US the Republicans accuse the progressives, especially progressive Democrats, of wanting to foment "class war" when they try to put forth new taxes on the rich or criticize the right of trying to curtail voting rights of the poor. The Democrats vehemently deny that there is "class war" and that they only want fairness for the "middle class" and to help the poor advance themselves via the "American dream." Meanwhile both parties support the National Security Agency's keeping tabs on every single American citizen (as well as those of other countries) in order protect the security of the state (i.e., class rule).
This is the context in which Lenin maintains that the "exploited class," or to use the metaphor currently in use, the 99 %, must create a new type of state "capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters."
3. "The State -- An Instrument for the Exploitation of the Oppressed Class."
The representatives of the state demand special immunities, honors and privileges above and beyond those accorded to regular members of society. Special honor is accorded to judges to underscore the importance of the laws enacted by the dominant class. The police and military can often literally get away with murders and brutalities that would subject regular citizens to extreme state punishment. Rampant police brutality and lawlessness is well known throughout the United States as well as military atrocities carried out abroad that amount to war crimes. Breaking up strikes of working people and clamping down on protesters are regular features of the police function.
Lenin will answer the following question: "what is it that places them above society?" He quotes Engels to answer this question. "Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict between these classes." Because the state is the tool of the economically dominant class this class also becomes the politically dominant class. In the U.S. it is no accident that with the rise of progressive political movements the Supreme Court in the Citizens United ruling opened the flood gates so that unlimited amounts of money could inundate the electoral arena and allow the 1% to literally position itself to buy elections and asphyxiate the democratic aspirations of regular citizens. This is nothing new. Engels long ago remarked that "the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage labour by capital." In face of the consensus of economists, for example, that in the U.S. a living wage would come to $15.00 an hour the most the government is willing to push for is $10.10 per hour. A fine illustration of Engels' point.
How does the 1% actually exercise control by the use of wealth? Lenin gives a couple of examples after quoting Engels---i.e., "direct corruption of officials" (America) and "alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange" (France, America). Imperialism and the banks working together have perfected the methods of both direct and indirect control of the state. Democratic republics, such as the U.S. and many others as well, are the best forms of government for the capitalists. "The reason why the omnipotence of 'wealth' is more
certain in a democratic republic," Lenin says, "is that it does not depend on individual defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capitalism has gained possession of this very best shell it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it." This may be why "No we can't" is a more realistic political slogan than "Yes we can" for workers under the control of a bourgeois democracy (but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!).
Elections are important and voting is important in a bourgeois-democratic republic such as the U.S. Participation in elections is an important educational tool and helps working people understand the nature of bourgeois democracy and leads to greater class consciousness. Nevertheless, Lenin insists that we "note that Engels is most explicit in calling universal suffrage an instrument of bourgeois rule."
Knowing how elections actually work, how they are corrupted by money, how the nature of bourgeois democracy is objectively structured to keep the working class under control, Lenin thinks socialists (i.e., real socialists not the phony social democrats) should not reinforce "the false notion that universal suffrage 'in the present-day state' is really capable of revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realisation." Well, the accuracy of this depends on what the meaning of what "present" means in "present-day state." Is Lenin out of date here, or not? In any event, Lenin is in favor of the struggle for universal suffrage but he is under no illusion that it will solve the problems of working class people.
We will finish off Chapter One next time with a discussion of the "Withering Away" of the state.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
State and Revolution Chapter One "Class Society and the State".
1. "The State-- A Product of the Irreconcilability of Class Antagonisms"
Lenin begins by remarking that the great leaders of oppressed humanity are reviled and hated by the rulers of the day but after their deaths attempts are made "to convert them into harmless icons." Martin Luther King was reviled in his day as a trouble maker because of his civil rights work and as a traitor because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. Now he has schools named after him and his birthday is a national holiday. His fiery rhetoric against racism and imperialism forgotten. Malcolm X has suffered a similar fate. Once hated by the establishment and mass media he now has streets and housing projects named in his honor and his image graces postage stamps. His ideas virtually forgotten.
Just recently we have seen the arch "terrorist" and communist agent Nelson Mandela rechristened as the grandfatherly "Madiba" an advocate of nonviolence-- his call for the oppressed to arm themselves and fight for their liberation lost among the platitudes of the world figures who rushed to his funeral to heap praises on the man they tried for so many years to undermine and destroy.
Just so was the fate of Karl Marx according to Lenin. Many left wing politicians and labor leaders of Lenin's day praised Marxism and even called themselves Marxist-- along with university professors and public intellectuals (then as now their name is Legion)-- but their real purpose was "to omit, obscure or distort the revolutionary side of this theory, its revolutionary soul."
Lenin wants to reverse this trend-- which is even more prevalent today than in Lenin's time-- at least on the socialist left and among those he called "petty bourgeois intellectuals." He sees the main purpose of his book "is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state." My purpose is to establish what Lenin actually thought Marx's teaching was-- not decide on its correctness or the truth or falsity of the teaching --at least we will be able to tell the difference between those who only give lip service to Marxism and those who take it it more seriously.
Lenin's procedure is to look up the passages that Marx and Engels devoted to the state and to clearly present them so that, he thinks, no one can be confused about what their ideas really where. He starts off with passages from "the most popular of Engels's works"-- namely The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Popular as this book may be, I don't think it is today Engels's most popular work-- I doubt if, outside of the socialist left, any of Engels's works are considered "popular."
In any event, in this work Engels tells us that the state appears at a particular time in the history of social development. It is not present in bands of hunter gatherers, or in clan or tribal societies but arises when social development has led to specialization of functions in city states where there are food producing peasants, and a ruling upper strata has evolved with professional armed "peace keepers" at their disposal. What has appeared are "classes" of people with different economic functions who find their interests are not always harmonious and they are often in conflict with each other. These developments began during the late new stone age (the Neolithic Revolution) as a result of the creation of agriculture which allowed for the production of a surplus food supply which called for management and storage.
In order for the society in question to maintain social peace and not tear itself apart a power needed to be created that could enforce "order" or social peace and, Engels says, "this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state."
But why was it that social peace was disrupted by the creation of an agricultural surplus? Because the management and distribution of the surplus was delegated to a group of individuals who were relieved from the daily work of actual production. In times of scarcity conflicts arose between the actual producers and those responsible for distribution of the surplus. These two groups each had one important goal in mind-- group survival-- and thus ultimately found themselves at loggerheads over the distribution of the social surplus. This resulted in an irreconcilable contradiction between the classes and is the basis for the proposition enunciated in the Communist Manifesto that history, as we know it, is a history of class conflicts.
"The state," Lenin writes, " is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises where and insofar as class antagonisms objectively cannot be reconciled." According to Lenin this fundamental Marxist principle means that where we have state power-- that is wherever we find societies based on classes -- we will find that the education system, the mass media, and the political system in general is dedicated to the view that "the state is an organ for the reconciliation of classes." The class in power knows better but, at least in modern times, their pundits, press, and propagandists preach this doctrine incessantly.
"According to Marx," however, "the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another." No harmonious society here. If you have ever wondered why the government can't (or won't) control the banks and big corporations, why it doesn't end fracking, why it won't act on climate change or really protect the environment, why food companies and restaurant chains can sell us junk to eat, why women, workers, immigrants, minorities and the poor always get the short end of the stick, the cops always bust up the strikers and protestors demonstrating for their rights, why the interests of the 99% can't democratically get anywhere with respect to the interests of the 1% and whistleblowers go to jail and hypocrites to the state house all you need remember is that it's the 1%'s state not the 99%'s.
"That the state," says Lenin, "is an organ of the rule of a definite class which cannot be reconciled with its antipode (the class opposite to it) is something the petty-bourgeois democrats will never be able to understand." If Lenin is correct this could have long term implications for left-center unity. The left could make tactical alliances with the center on definite issues but how could the left make long term strategical alliances with people who will never be able to understand what's really going on? This is a question we will hopefully get back to later.
Lenin ends this section by referring to Kautsky's views which are relevant here. There are some who, like Kautsky, agree in theory with what Lenin has explained is Marx's theory of the state but they distort it and do not draw the proper conclusions in practice which are, according to Lenin, "that the liberation of the oppressed class is impossible not only without a violent revolution, but also without the destruction of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling class and which is the embodiment" of the "alienation" of the state from the society it dominates.
Well this is indeed a radical conclusion which cannot be drawn from the evidence Lenin has so far put forth from the quotes he has produced from Marx and Engels. Lenin is aware that he has jumped the gun here and tells us that he will demonstrate the truth of the above conclusions later in his work. We shall see. One of the laws of dialectics is the unity and reconciliation of opposites so it will be interesting to see why this does not apply to the organ of one class and its "antipode."
SR Chapter One will continue.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
It's been 97 years since Lenin first wrote what has since become a "classic" of Marxism:The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution, hereafter referred to as SR. I propose to discuss the significance of this work for today (the beginning of the 21st Century) and so will not spend a lot of time discussing its relevance to the world of 97 years ago.
Therefore, the tasks of the working class in the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 will only be touched upon and I will concentrate instead on the Marxist theory of the state. Lenin and the Bolsheviks successfully applied this theory in their day and were able to overthrow the capitalist ruling class and its supporters in Russia and surrounding areas and to found the Soviet Union in 1922. How should we understand this theory today as we struggle to advance the interests of working people around the world in their effort to free themselves from capitalist exploitation and oppression (including the workers of the former socialist countries)?
I will begin with a few remarks about Lenin's "Preface" to the first edition of SR. First, Lenin's characterization of the state is as accurate today as it was when he wrote his preface: The "oppression of the working people by the state which is merging more and more with the all- powerful capitalist associations, is becoming increasingly monstrous."
Capitalist states have by now practically completed the merge. In the US the present economic depression initiated, among other reasons, by fraudulent lending practices and other illegal activities by banks and big corporations has seen the state bailing out the big capitalist firms while leaving the working people, the victims of the depression, to fend for themselves. The state has recently cut food stamps and unemployment insurance benefits for the working people while giving subsidies to big agricultural and energy interests. There is no doubt whose interest the state serves.
In European countries the state is either imposing regimes of extreme austerity on the working population in order to extract wealth to be turned over to bond holders and banks or pushing through measures to revamp the labor laws and retirement plans of the workers to their disadvantage in order that the corporations may more easily fire people and will not have their taxes increased to support social programs.
In the Third World from Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Indonesia, to Mexico, Haiti and Africa , and points in between, we see the state allied with commercial interests and using its police and military to break up strikes and work stoppages in support of the owners of capital.
Lenin also pointed out that those who claim to be champions of the working class, especially so-called "socialist" leaders have sided with the capitalist class against the workers of their own countries, but also internationally. The French socialist government, for example, openly supports the most reactionary elements of the US ruling class in its international quest to dominate Third World countries. This is in line with Lenin's observation that "the majority of the so-called Great Powers have long been exploiting and enslaving a whole number of small and weak nations." Is the world any different today?
One of the most effective ways the capitalist class keeps the workers in thrall and off balance is by appeals to patriotism (USA! USA!) and by pitting the workers of one country against those of another ("Buy made in America!"). The idea that the state is somehow class neutral or can be made to champion the workers against the financial and industrial interests is seen by Lenin as an obstacle to mobilizing the working people to struggle for THEIR interests rather than the interests of the exploiters. Lenin uses the term "opportunism" to describe working class leaders who work to achieve narrow short term and temporary gains at the expense of the long term interests of the working class. Opportunism is not the same as reformism which brings about substantive long term changes under capitalism which will strengthen working class consciousness (such as the struggle for civil and political rights.)
Struggles for reform increase class consciousness in the working class, while opportunism decreases it. This is why Lenin thinks understanding the nature of the state is of vital importance. "The struggle to free the working people from the influence of the bourgeoisie in general, and the imperialist bourgeoisie in particular, is impossible without a struggle against opportunistic prejudices concerning the 'state'".
Up to this point I think the ideas expressed by Lenin in his preface are still applicable today. However, there are three issues that I now turn to which have questionable merit today. 1. "The world proletarian revolution is clearly maturing." This was an overly optimistic, if understandable, position in 1917. But subsequent events actually led to the derailment of the "world proletarian revolution" which shows no sign of getting back on tract anytime soon. However, events in North America and Europe, Cuba and South America, as well as Africa and the Middle East are indicative of a general malaise of the international capitalist order the outcome of which is not now predictable. 2. While there are many lessons to be learned from the Russian Revolution, Lenin was incorrect, I think, in seeing it as the first link in a chain of revolutions which would overthrow capitalism. Capitalism ultimately overthrew it, hopefully for the nonce. 3. The emphasis on refuting the ideas of Karl Kautsky, while essential in the era of WWI, are no longer as relevant as they were in light of the developments in Marxist theory attributable to Gramsci, Trotsky, Mao and others.
Finally, Lenin ends the preface with the following words regarding the understanding of the nature of the state and its relation to the struggle for socialism which he says "is a most urgent problem of the day, the problem of explaining to the masses what they will have to do before long to free themselves from capitalist tyranny." Well, it's a long time since Lenin's "before long" but the problem is still urgent and the explanation must still be made.
Coming up-SR Chapter One "Class Society and the State".
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
This is a reply to Slavoj Zizek's article "Mandela's Socialist Failure" published online in The Stone (a New York Times maintained philosophy blog) on December 6, 2013. In eight pithy paragraphs Zizek endeavors to expose the real legacy of Mandela as opposed to his current "beatification." The Catholic Church used to have someone play the role of Devil's Advocate to denigrate the reputation of a person nominated to become a saint. Zizek has taken it upon himself to see to it that Mandela's "beatification" does not progress to full fledged "sainthood."
Zizek's mantra is that "Mandela was not Mugabe"-- the "good" as opposed to the "bad" Black African leader. Mandela is seen as "a saintly wise man" and Hollywood even makes movies about him. He was "impersonated" by Morgan Freeman who, Zizek points out also impersonated God! Oh my!-- what are they trying to tell us? Zizek should perhaps be reminded that Morgan Freeman is an outstanding actor (or impersonator if you prefer) and has played many roles-- including a chauffeur. And, Zizek notes, "rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification." Somehow I don't see Fidel Castro as a "politician" in quite the same way as the unprincipled pragmatist Bill Clinton. Nor do I think Fidel and Clinton are "united" in their evaluations of Nelson Mandela-- far from it. According to Zizek, Mandela is hailed for leaving behind "a muti-party democracy with free press and a vibrant [!] economy well-integrated into the global market and immune [!] to hasty Socialist experiments."
But what is the truth about this man's legacy? The Devil's Advocate will reveal "two
key facts" that are "obliterated" by all the pro-Mandela beatification activities. Fact One: There is still wide spread poverty and social misery in South Africa and an increase in "insecurity, violence, and crime." The majority of Black South Africans are living "broadly," Zizek says, "the same as under apartheid." This fact "counterbalances" any "rise of political and civil rights." What is the "main change" in South Africa since the time of Mandela according to Zizek? It is a "new black elite" has joined the "old white ruling class"-- not a new constitution giving equal rights to all citizens and allowing all South Africans to live and work together.
Zizek's statements are completely ridiculous. There are deepening economic problems in South Africa today as well as class divisions but Black people and all South Africans no longer have to carry passes, all can vote, people can go to the same beaches and hotels, etc. The millions who mourned the death of Mandela are acutely aware of the problems facing their country and also aware that the repressive, dehumanizing regime of official racism and apartheid is dead. To think that reality has been "obliterated" in the consciousness of South African people by a Mandela sainthood cult is an insulting affront to the citizens of the new South Africa and reeks of a colonial European outlook towards African peoples. So much for "Fact One."
Fact Two: Black South Africans are becoming angry because the memory of the aims of the "old" African National Congress (social justice and a "kind of" socialism are being "obliterated from our memory." Far from being "obliterated" the program of the ANC and its allies in the labor unions and the South African Communist Party are constantly debated and discussed by the people of South Africa and the demands for more radical reforms and more progressive policies can be democratically advanced. Zizek overlooks the fact that there is a real living democracy at the root of the New South Africa and that Nelson Mandela played a major role in its creation. The millions mourning his passing are not mindless masses with "obliterated" memories.
According to Zizek South Africa is just another example of the current left paradigm: the left comes to power promising a "new world" but then confronts the reality of the international neoliberal capitalist consensus . Imperialism can speedily punish countries trying to embark on the socialist road. In South Africa's case political power was ceded to the ANC on condition that the existing economic system was preserved . It was thought that this prevented a civil war of massive proportions. This Historic Compromise (called by some a Faustian pact with the old regime) is at the root of the current problems of poverty and mass discontent in the country.
Zizek is sympathetic to Mandela's dilemma -- create a "new world"-- risk a civil war-- or "play the game" and abandon the "socialist perspective." [There is too much focus on Mandela here-- these decisions were made collectively by the leaders of all the major forces in the liberation movement.] Zizek asks a question that is still hotly debated today. Given the constellation of forces facing the ANC et al on the assumption of power "was the move towards socialism a real option?" [Compromise was indeed necessary, but did the ANC concede too much?]
Seemingly inspired by Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (a coming of age novel for adolescent libertarians), Zizek looks for "the grain of truth" in the "hymn to money" found in the novel: "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice-- there is no other."
Not only is there no "grain of truth" in this "hymn" but when human beings only deal with each other on the basis of money we get all the horrors of blood, whips and guns that humans employ against each other in order to obtain and control more and more money (slavery, colonialism, imperialism, fraud-- you name it). It is not humans per se, of course, who engage in these horrors, but a special class of humans (capitalists) created by the dominant economic system of monopoly capitalism.
Not content with uncovering a grain of truth in Randism, Zizek imputes the same idea to Karl Marx-- a most un-Randian leap of fallaciousness. He asks if Marx's ideas about "the universe of commodities" were not similar to what Rand said in her hymn about money. After all Marx said under capitalism "relations between people assume the guise of relations among things." This is a perfect example of a non sequitur and I defy anyone to find the similarity between Marx's statements about the fetishism of commodities and Rand's view "that money is the root of all good."
Zizek's confusions continue. He thinks that the relations between people in the "market economy" can appear "as relations of mutually recognized freedom and equality." Maybe in the days of Adam Smith but I doubt even then. Donald Trump and his chauffeur hardly are equals or exercise the same amount of freedom. Mitt Romney thought 47 per cent of the American people were social parasites and he is an outstanding representative of the freedom and equally offered by the "market economy." Most working people know exactly their relations to their bosses and it not only appears to be unequal and unfree (who gets the pink slip and loses unemployment insurance) it is unequal and unfree-- and all of Ayn Rand's baloney will never make it otherwise.
It is obvious to any aware working person, that the blatant inequality and restrictions on human freedom under the "market economy" lived and felt by millions of Greek workers, Spanish working people, and others in the EU and throughout the world, that Zizek's view -- under capitalism "domination is no longer directly enacted and visible as such" -- is just nonsense. Such ruminations by a famous philosopher can only give philosophy a bad name.
While Zizek says that Ayn Rand's ideological claim (only the love of money can free people) is ridiculous, he persists in reminding us of the "moment of truth" it contains. The problem, he thinks, is Rand's "underlying premise" which is "that the only choice is between direct and indirect relations of domination and exploitation" and any alternative is "utopian." Ayn Rand has no such premise. She thinks in simple dichotomies. Unfettered dynamic capitalism and the love of money is GOOD and it is in no way, direct or indirect, involved in any relations of domination and exploitation-- it is the root of GOODNESS. On the other hand any efforts by liberals , socialists, misguided Catholic popes, or anybody else that impinges on this system of goodness is EVIL and a direct source domination and exploitation.
Zizek, however, thinks the "moment of truth" in Ayn Rand's theory of money is that it teaches us "the great lesson of state socialism." Despite Zizek's discovery of the Randian "moment of truth," I don't recommend using Atlas Shrugged as a prolegomena to any future socialism. This is the "truth" that Zizek has discovered.
If you abolish private property (God forbid!) and the market without concretely regulating production then you resuscitate "direct relations of servitude and domination." What does this mean? What "state socialist" country or countries can he be referring to that did not or do not have plans that regulate production? So called "state socialism" was famous for having "central planning" and tried to concretely regulate both production and distribution. As it stands Zizek's lesson is pointless.
He expands on his lesson. If we just abolish the market "without replacing it with a proper form of Communist organization of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation." This isn't very helpful. Communism doesn't spring full blown from the brow of Lenin the day after the revolution. What does Zizek think is the "proper form" of Communism. He gives us no clue in this article. I fear there is no lesson at all to be learned from Ayn Rand's "moment of truth." Certainly not Zizek's tautology that socialism fails to create communism if it doesn't create the proper form of communism.
Zizek now propounds a "general rule"-- it is really just his way of saying the more things change the more they stay the same. It goes like this: when the people rise up against "an oppressive half-democratic regime" [what is a "half-democracy"-- people either have democratic rights or they don't] it's "easy" to get large demonstrations underway [I think that's what rising up means] and crowd pleasing slogans are devised (pro democracy, anti-corruption, etc) but after the "revolt succeeds" the people find themselves still oppressed as they were before except in a "new guise."
This seems to me to be a strange concept of what a "successful" revolt is. Zizek seems to think it is some sort of spontaneous generation of of all things good and great for the people and if doesn't happen overnight, then the revolt has failed. His case studies are of the revolts "in the Middle East in 2011." He doesn't seem to understand that these are ongoing processes. The French Revolution didn't end with chopping off the King's head. The revolts may have been begun in the Middle East in 2011 but they are ongoing processes with ups and downs, advances and set backs and it much to early to decide which have failed and which have succeeded or even what "failure" or "success" will mean in the longue duree.
Zizek plogs along. The people do not succeed because they are prevented from seeing that their exploitation continues in the new guise after the revolution by the "ruling ideology" which blames them for their failure because they don't understand that they are not yet mature enough for full democracy [ and anyway, as Lady Thatcher put it, 'there is no alternative" to capitalism (TINA)]. Zizek doesn't make sense here because he maintains both that the people don't realize the same old exploitation is going on and that they do realize it but are themselves blamed for it by the "ruling ideology." I think Zizek will find "the people" a bit more sophisticated and not as simple minded as he portrays them.
Zizek now explains how US foreign policy has developed a strategy that redirects the revolutionary energy of a popular revolt into political forms desired by US imperialism (not a word used by Zizek in this article). The US did this in South Africa after the end of apartheid. If this is the case then the ANC, Mandela, the SACP, and entire liberation movement were puppets of US imperialist foreign policy. While he is at it, Zizek also says the same was done in the Philippines, post Marcos, in Indonesia, post Suharto, "and elsewhere."
Now US foreign policy is indeed a formidable enemy of the people's of the world but the explanation for the problems of liberation movements in attaining their stated goals after the assumption of power can't simply be explained by saying they are victims of US foreign policy's elaborate "detailed strategy of how to exert damage control." In fact, as Wikileaks has shown, the people in charge of US foreign policy often don't know what they are doing, set in motion ridiculous plans, and often end making a mess out of whatever they had in mind to accomplish.
US foreign policy is by and large incompetent and its agents, diplomats, Congressmen and women, generals, cabinet members, and intelligence professionals can only foam at the mouth and yell "treason" when a young soldier, performing his duty to the Constitution of the the United States, Chelsea Manning, reveals some "secret" wires showing up the blunders and failures of the "professionals" in the state department and others and how they try to mislead the American people. In any event, Zizek says the big problem of the liberation movements is in finding a way to counteract US policies. As he puts it-- "how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe." Perhaps a dialectical synthesis. Is Zizek is waiting for Mangabe?
Finally, Zizek tells us what to do "to remain faithful to Mandela's legacy"-- a legacy he just told us was a failure and capitulation to imperialism. Zizek is just the philosopher of that kind of legacy. One he himself calls of "unfulfilled promises" and one that didn't "really disturb the global order of power." We must forget the "celebratory crocodile tears" shed for Mandela and his leadership. I think that the people of South Africa and many of the dignitaries (but not all) at his memorial and funeral would, and should be, outraged to be accused of faking their feelings for Mandela. We must instead concentrate on his failures. He ended his life as a "bitter old man" realizing his hero status "was the mask of a bitter defeat." How does Zizek know this? He thinks, this is the type of philosopher he is, that "we can safely surmise" this to be the case because "of his doubtless moral and political greatness." What sense is there in saying there is political greatness in being a bitter old defeated man. Is the true founder of democratic South Africa then president F. W. de Klerk who is neither bitter nor considered a failure? Where is the moral greatness in bitterness?
The truth is that Mandela was a realist who made unavoidable compromises to free his people from apartheid, that he and his comrades in the ANC and SACP and the trade union movements forged a revolutionary struggle that toppled one of the most repressive political regimes in the world-- one backed by the post powerful imperialism in the world and its allies. This was not a failure to attain "socialism." Socialism cannot be imposed from above, it must be struggled for by working and oppressed people themselves and Mandela helped found the preconditions for that struggle.
The fact that mighty of the world came to his memorial is testimony not that he failed "to disturb the global order of power" but that he profoundly shook it and they are eager to co-op his message and be identified with him because they know that all over the world at this very moment millions of oppressed people in both the centers of capitalist power and in the neocolonial fringes are beginning to rise up and demand their rights and that they have much to learn from the tactics of the South African liberation movement. Slavol Zizek's libels notwithstanding, Nelson Mandela was a great revolutionary leader who freed his people from oppression and inspires masses around the world to fight for a better world-- he was the farthest it was possible to be from a "bitter old man."