September 19, 2004

The fundamental systemic violence of capital

Zizek brilliant on the Communist Manifesto:

'[T]he fundamental lesson of the "critique of political economy" elaborated by the mature Marx in the years after The Manifesto is that this reduction of all heavenly chimeras to the brutal economic reality generates a spectrality of its own. When Marx describes the mad self-enhancing circulation of capital, whose solipsistic path of self-fecundation reaches its apogee in today's meta-reflexive speculations on futures, it is far too simplistic to claim that the spectre of this self-engendering monster that pursues its path disregarding any human or environmental concern is an ideological abstraction, and that one should never forget that, behind this abstraction, there are real people and natural objects on whose productive capacities and resources the capital's circulation is based and on which it feeds like a gigantic parasite. The problem is that this "abstraction" is not only in our (financial speculator's) misperception of social reality, but that it is "real" in the precise sense of determining the structure of the very material social processes: the fate of whole strata of the population and sometimes of whole countries can be decided by the "solipsistic" speculative dance of Capital, which pursues its goal of profitability in a blessed indifference to how its movement will affect social reality. Therein resides the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism, much more uncanny than the direct pre-capitalist socio-ideological violence: this violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their "evil" intentions, but is purely "objective", systemic, anonymous.'

Posted by mark at September 19, 2004 12:48 PM | TrackBack

been digging into this guy a bit since i read Marks review in Mute...he's spotty sometimes

but, you are right...he is spot-on the money here

i wish the world could read this essay

Posted by: Rob at September 19, 2004 10:49 PM

For a sense of balance re: the sometimes less-than-brilliant polemics of Mr. Slavoj, see this and this.

Posted by: Matt at September 20, 2004 06:19 AM

Surely this was all said 30 years ago, though? Plus, his sentences are too long. "Apogee" FFS.

Mark - I will try to get back to you on "traditional" marxism (and this, and the sits, and some other stuff, maybe) but I'm greatly hampered by not being able to read k-punk at work because of its "pornography" rating there. Plus, y'know, stuff...

Posted by: john eden at September 20, 2004 07:52 PM

The problem is that this "abstraction" is not only in our misperception of social reality, but that it is "real" in the precise sense of determining the structure of the very material social processes
I decode this as saying that Kapitalism is bad magic.

Posted by: paul "bone thugz and armoury" meme at September 20, 2004 09:09 PM

'bad' only in the ethical sense; it's certainly very effective....

John, I think Zizek's sentences are beautiful...

30 years ago? I'm not sure about that, but surely it's - to say the least - significant that someone dares say it NOW... after the end of history...

Intrigued by this pornography rating... it seems that woebot also got a porn rating... how?

Posted by: mark at September 20, 2004 09:38 PM

I never understood the end of history, let alone how something can be "after" the end of history - I suspect it's something else we disagree on. :-)

Ditto the "beauty" of his sentences. It reminds of the legalese report-speak I have to use at work. Have you read Lao Tzu? Am I just being an anti-intellectual oaf?

Certainly people in the french ultra-left milieu in the 70s like the SI and Camatte were talking about capital in those terms (disembodiment - escaping from humanity, etc) iirc. It's also cropped up in some anarchist stuff, of course.

I'm not sure how the porn rating works either but my work has some kind of net nanny installed which doesn't like sites it thinks include porn, games or stuff about hacking. I think Infinite Thought is also affected so it maybe an abstract dynamics thang. Fortunately I can still read Woebot though...

Posted by: john eden at September 20, 2004 10:19 PM

The irony of IT and k-punk - who almost uniquely on the planet, it seems, share the view that 'sex is boring' - BOTH being classed as porn.... LOL....

I don't find Zizek legalese at all; I read him as a theoretical potboiler, devour it in the same way other ppl read beach fiction... total compulsion, total lucidity....

The end of history, I was using ironically... it's the Blairite view, but more than that, the view of apparently triumphant kynikal capital... 'all that critique of capital, how naive, we've all accepted the ravenous machine and Oedipalism as the only possible reality, haven't we?'

Of course, there's nothing 'new' in what Zizek is saying here; it is after all 'nothing more than' a commentary on Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto. But what he precisely seeks to demonstrate is - in the face of dismissals by 'commonsense liberalism' which have now 'established' that the CM was 'wrong' (historically and conceptually) - the continuing hyper-relevance of Marx.

In articulating an effective anti-capital theory, Zizek pisses all over dullards like Hardt and Negri IMHO....

Posted by: mark at September 21, 2004 07:10 AM

i liked this, very clearly and simply written, there are a few things which seem out of place now, too hopeful or too matter of fact. He underplays violence, which it was possible to do in the 90's more than now, ie the western world wasn't subject to the war on terror etc, and all the international misery that has happened, also this statement "On the other hand, any return to traditional values (from Catholic or Islamic fundamentalism to Oriental New Age wisdom is doomed to fail not only because it is impotent in face of the thrust of Capital, but because attempts to reassert the old ways already by their very form reinforce the New" , seems to jar,
maybe the traditional values were always there, and it was a bit of wishful thinking to imagine they had gone. ie capital and traditional values run hand in slimy hand.

Posted by: mms at September 21, 2004 10:36 PM

I think Zizek acknowledges that last point though when he says "attempts to reassert the old ways already by their very form reinforce the New" - *neither* "traditional" religion as it currently exists nor fashionable spiritualiy can really be thought to be oppositional to capital because capital is the organising principle behind both. Christianity in the West (particularly US-style pressure group Christianity) is as bad as spirituality in this regard.

Posted by: Tim Finney at September 23, 2004 02:14 AM

By the way that second anti-Zizek link is a total strawman beat-up. The writer claims that, unlike Noam Chomsky, Zizek doesn't care about facts and thus isn't credible on world politics. Whereas in fact Zizek says that the facts don't really have as much sway on public opinion as some on the left would like to believe (eg. the public persist in believing that the US (or in my case Australian) Government is honest despite a multitude of facts to the contrary - ie. *fetishism*! There was a cartoon in my local paper the other day that was like a super-condensed version of Zizek's critique of cynical reason, which has never been as relevant as it is now). What the writer does is essentially conflate Zizek's opinion wrt facts with that of the general public who he is analysing.

Posted by: Tim Finney at September 23, 2004 03:03 AM

I agree, the first one is better. Then again, if you want to talk about straw men wrt Zizek...

Posted by: Matt at September 26, 2004 05:03 PM