Another end of the world is possible

Dora Longo Bahia, Revoluções (calendar project), 2016 Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (12 pieces), 23 x 30.5 cm each
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By SLAVEJ ŽIŽEK*

Political leaders are quietly aware of the pandemic’s radical social consequences – leaders act preemptively, trying to annihilate them before they take on a fully political form

A press release published on September 27, 2020 went almost unnoticed: "The government has ordered schools in England not to use fonts from organizations that have expressed a desire to end capitalism. The guideline, published Thursday by the Ministry of Education and aimed at school principals and teachers involved in implementing the Relations, Sex and Health curriculum, classified anti-capitalism as an "extreme political position" and equated it with a counter-speech. freedom of expression, anti-Semitism and support for illegal activities”.

As far as I know, there is no precedent for such an explicit order to have been given. Nothing like this ever occurred, even in the darkest hours of the Cold War. It is also worth noting the choice of words: “a desire to end capitalism”, not an intention, a plan, or a program, just a desire, a term that can be applied to any kind of statement (“all right, you didn’t say, but really want to”…). Added to this, however, is the now usual mention of anti-Semitism, as if a desire to put an end to capitalism was in itself anti-Semitic. Do the authors understand that their ban is in itself anti-Semitic: does it assume that Jews are capitalists by nature?

panic on board

Why this sudden panic reaction to communism? Is it because the pandemic, global warming and social crises could give China an opportunity to assert itself as the only superpower? No, China is not the Soviet Union of today – the best way to stop communism is to follow China. If the Soviet Union was the external enemy, the threat to liberal democracies today comes from within, from the explosive mix of crises that corrodes our societies. Take an extreme but crystal clear example of how the current pandemic has pushed our societies in the direction of what we associate with communism, and in some cases even worse.

in your book "Logiques des Mondes” [Paris, Seuil, 2006], Alain Badiou elaborated the idea of ​​the politics of revolutionary justice, in action from the ancient Chinese “jurists”, through the Jacobins, to Lenin and Mao. It consists of four moments: voluntarism (the belief that we can “move mountains” by ignoring “objective” obstacles and laws), terror (an implacable will to crush the enemy), egalitarian justice (its brutal and immediate imposition, without understanding the complex circumstances that are supposed to convince us to proceed gradually), and, finally, confidence in the people.

Doesn't the current pandemic force us to invent a new version of these four elements? Voluntarism: even in countries where conservative forces are in power, decisions are taken that clearly violate the “objective” laws of the market, such as direct state intervention in industry, the distribution of billions to prevent hunger or for public health measures . Terror: liberals are consistent in their fear, as states are not only constrained to adopt new modes of social control and regulation, people are also forced to denounce family members or neighbors who hide their infection to medical authorities. Equal justice: it is generally accepted (even if in reality this is and will be disrespected) that the eventual vaccine should be accessible to all and that no portion of the world's population is sacrificed to the virus – either the treatment is global, or it is ineffective. Trust in people: We all know that most measures against the pandemic only work if people follow the recommendations – no state measure can take over.

Behind fascism, a failed revolution

Far more important is the partial socialization of the economy imposed by the pandemic – such socialization will become even more urgent with the ongoing rise in infections. This is how the “fascist” tendencies of Trump and other populists must be interpreted – as Walter Benjamin once enunciated: “Behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution”. These “fascist” tendencies reveal that leaders are silently aware of the radical social consequences of the pandemic – leaders are acting preemptively, trying to annihilate them before they take on a fully political form.

Certainly, it's pretty easy to reduce Trump to a fascist, but the danger he embodies is even worse than pure and simple fascism. From my youth, I remember an East German joke: Richard Nixon, Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker found themselves before God and asked him about the future of their countries. To Nixon, he replies: “By 2050, America will be communist!” Nixon turns around and starts crying. To Brezhnev, he said, "By 2050, the Soviet Union will be a Chinese province." Brezhnev turns around and starts to cry, and Honecker, in turn, asks: “And what will happen in my beloved GDR?”, and God turns around and starts to cry… It's easy to imagine the version this mockery if Trump and the like triumph over our world. Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump would ask God the same question. To Putin, God would reply, “Russia will be under the control of China,” and Putin would turn away crying. To Xi, God would say, “Mainland China will be dominated by Taiwan,” and Xi would do the same. When Trump's turn came, God would turn around and start crying...

What we are reaping today – and not only in China – is the combination of a strong and authoritarian state and wild capitalist dynamics. The most effective form of contemporary capitalism consists of what Henry Farrell called “network authoritarianism”. (“networked authoritarianism”): if the state spies sufficiently on its citizens and allows machine learning systems to incorporate its behavior into the responses, it is possible to satisfy everyone's needs better than a democracy is capable of. On this point, Xi, Putin and Trump form a team.

Ready to fight your battles

Two conclusions here are self-evident, one in the short term, the other in the long term. The short term is that the task of the radical left (or what remains of it) is henceforth, as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, to save our “bourgeois” democracies, where the liberal center is too weak or too indecisive to do so. it. Shame on them – we are now ready to fight their battles. As obsessed as they may be with Trump's provocative eccentricities, liberals miss the main point made by Michael Sandel: Trump is not a dictator, he's just playing the dictator on television, and we shouldn't overlook his ulterior motives. .

We accept playing this game when we criticize him as some kind of fascist instead of focusing on his failures, which he covers up with provocations and dictatorial excesses. Recently published tax documents reveal that he is simply a mediocre manager who financially exploits the state while declaring repeated bankruptcies, losing millions and avoiding taxes in every possible way - the only profitable thing he has done in recent decades is his television program “O Aprendiz”, in which he plays his own role. His typical strategy is to provoke the anger of liberals, which attracts a great deal of attention, and then, out of public view, implement measures that advance workers' rights, etc.

The second conclusion: during the demonstrations that broke out in Chile in October 2019, one of the graffiti on the walls read: “another end of the world is possible”. This should be our response to political leaders obsessed with doomsday scenarios: yes, our world is coming to an end, but the options you are considering are not the only ones. Another end of the world is possible.

*Slavoj Žižek is a professor at the Institute of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). Author, among other books, of The year we dreamed dangerously (Boitempo).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves

 

 

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