March 17, 2006

Neither Washington nor Tehran...

This has gone on too long.

Make no bones about it, Zizek's latest piece is full of sloppy errors and hasty rhetorical moves. And the central problem with it is, indeed, that it makes too many concessions to liberalism. But its liberalism consists in the genuflection to the concept of 'respect' ('respect for persons' being the founding tenet of liberalism). The accusations made by Lenin and the always ludicrous but now totally discredited Le Currency Trader amount to the opposite: that Zizek is not liberal enough, that he is insufficiently 'culturally sensitive', not deferential enough to the pieties of cultural difference.

Le Trader confuses intensity of hysterical sanctimony with radicality of position. I'm not going to link to her site again; too many intelligent people have already wasted too much time by being drawn into that vortex of unreasoning resentment and rhetorician's spite. The (surely no surprise to anyone) revelations on Long Sunday that Le Trader is a full-on capitalist (but it's OK, she has a good heart, and no-one who reads her can doubt for a moment that the milk of human kindness flows from her every pore) are less humiliating than the way she outs herself as a total naif, innocently unaware of even the first principles of Marxism (what, capital is abstract? You mean that it's not about bad people and stuff?) It now becomes clear why Le Opera Goeur was so keen to reject the attack on populism; she wants to retain the category of the bad capitalist so she can keep open the possibility that are good capitalists (like... guess who). Perhaps they didn't get onto Marxism at her finishing school. What is clear is that Le Trader's moralizing liberal socialism (placard-waving whining at the Man) is not only ignorant of Marxism, it is what Marx came to abolish. Le Trader is so much like a fantasy figure for the anti-Left, so exactly fitting it caricature of a Leftist is like, that you do sometimes question whether she's real and not some neo-liberal concoction.

Le Trader's pathologies would be merely uninteresting, nasty and unpleasant if some of the stances she takes up weren't shared by less reactive, more intelligent minds on the left. The important question is: how has it come to this, where large areas of the Left have effectively ditched Marxism in favour of guilt-mongering Cult Studs meta-orientalism? Imagine if the SWP put all the energy it is currently devoting to shore up its Islamophiliac stance - ALL that rhetorical evasion and Jesuitical sophistry - into developing anti-capitalist strategies and tactics. Sometimes, in the midst of the ceaseless blizzard of quasi-McCarthyite Islamophobic denunciation, you begin to wonder if the conspiracy theories about 9/11 being a deliberate attempt to stop the anti-capitalist movement were actually founded. Just in case there is any doubt: I in no way underestimate the importance of Islamophobia; I in no way retreat from anything I said about the facile nature of the pseudo-concept of 'Islamofascism'. It is just that I refuse to accept that Islamophilia is the opposite of Islamophobia; I refuse to equivocate between defending Muslims from racist attack and defending Islam; and I refuse to renounce the centrality of atheism to Marxism. The simple fact is that Marxist explanations are in competition with religious explanations. It's true that the same rages and frustrations which might lead someone to become a Marxist could also influence someone to turn to 'political' Islam. But Marx's point about opiation was that religion's next-wordly orientation will always disguise and mystify the social and economic causes of suffering, and thereby perpetuate them. Islamic Marxism would be a way forward, but this would entail a politicization of Islam not the Islamicization of politics practised by all the variants of really existing political Islam of which I am aware. (I sincerely hope that there are some other modes of political Islam out there at the moment... someone tell me where they are.)

The irony of the SWP's position is that it exactly falls into the logic previously repudiated by Trotskyists, that of an either-or disjunction between equally unpalatable alternatives. Where once Trotskyists refused to accept the false 'choice' between capitalism and Stalinism, proclaiming 'neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism', now the SWP seems to accept that it is a straight choice between EITHER capitalism OR political Islam, no buts. It has, in other words, obediently complied with the thinking of its Master (Signifier), the US, colluding in the racial delirium of 'one lone madman' that has replaced the MAD logic of cold war paranoia.

Zizek's attempts to step outside the USA/political Islam pseudo-opposition by introducing Europe as a third term are no doubt hamfisted. But his reflation of Eurocentrism has to be seen conjuncturally, in the context of the racial delirium of US supremacist-fascists like Mark Steyn, with their tiresome denunciations of Old Europe and 'Eurabia'. To trumpet Europe and atheism in the New York Times constitutes a provocation: better atheist Eurabia than fundamentalist USArabia. USArabia is the neo-con project for a new fundamentalist century, the reality of the US-political Islam complicity that lies behind the 'official' stand-off between the US and Islamism. As Hamid Taqvaee of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq has argued, US neo-conservatism has fed a resurgent religious climate from which political Islam has profited. We all know of the longstanding links between the US and bin Laden; and we need to remember that the US has looked mightily unperturbed while the previously secular Iraq has acquired its first Islamic constitution.

To believe that US 'Islamophobia' is really and actually an attack on the religion of Islam is to make both an empirical and a structural error. The empirical fact is that the US is shoring up fundamentalist regimes everywhere. Structurally, as is evident, the role of the 'Islamic Terror' is to fill the gap left by the disintegration of Stalinism. That is why Saddam's quasi-Stalinist Baathist regime was the perfect transitional object for the US in the immediate years after the Cold War ended. Saddam was no more a Muslim than Stalin was a Christian. But he was 'Muslim' in the way required by the racializing fantasy; Middle Eastern, dark complexion, not Israeli.... This racist delirium, which equates sworn enemies like Saddam and bin Laden (the only thing they have in common is that they were both funded by the US), will therefore find victims amongst Sikhs, Hindus , atheists, anyone, in fact, whose skin tone or look belongs to a certain ill-defined category, as well as amongst Muslims. So any defence of Islam spectacularly misses the point of what Islamophobia actually involves.

What is needed now more than ever is a certain coldness, a certain refusal of sentimentalism. (And Le Trader might like to come on all hard bitten cynical, but at bottom she's a sentimentalist; what is her Lawrence of Arabia-style fetishising of Third World struggles if it is not sentimental?) We need to do just as Marx recommended, and accelerate, not resist, capital's destruction of traditions, ethnicities and territorialities. It might be tempting to find bolt holes of reactionary tradition in which to take flight from the scouring winds of capital, but it is a temptation to be vehemently resisted. The non-organic product of capital's 'Frankensteinian surgery of the cities' (Lyotard), the proletariat emerges from the destruction of all ethnicities, the desolation of all tradition, the destitution of any home.

Marxist atheism is not to be mistaken for the Last Man sniping at religion I have previously attacked, and which I continue to deplore. Crucially, Marxist atheism is only achieved once the theological critique of capitalism is completed. This is what separates Marxist atheism from the gliberal platitudes of the likes of Nick Cohen, who proclaim secularism while remaining attached to the theology of capital (liberal commonsense). Theism is defined not by any positive beliefs, but by the role of the fetish or totem as transcendental guarantee of any reality system. The critique of religion is the 'premise of all critique' because critique is about the exposure of such fetish-guarantees. It is necessary to recognize that capitalism is very far from being anti-religious. On the contrary, it is, as Karatani puts it in Transcritique, a 'relgio-genic-process'. 'Whether or not we believe in religion in the narrow sense, real capitalism puts us in a structure similar to that of the religious world. What drives us in capitalism is neither the ideal nor the real (i.e. needs and desires), but the metaphysics and theology originated in exchange and commodity form.' This theology continues to evade critique because it is a disavowed theology, obscured by ideology. We don't really believe that capital is an autonomous force, we know (so we think) that the only reality is that of free individuals. The full confidence in the 'reality' of our free individuality is precisely the ideological feint which allows us to act as if commodities are autonomous. The critique of capitalism therefore entails a ruthless demolition of commodity-theology and its support in the social fetish of the 'free individual'.

Neither Washington nor Tehran but international communism...

Posted by mark at March 17, 2006 01:07 PM | TrackBack