Friday, April 22, 2011

Zizek on Revolutionary Violence

A snippet preview of the new issue of Jacobin.

Citing Badiou, Žižek determines that democratic procedures, under capitalist conditions, conceal the further perpetuation of institutional domination (or violence) over the oppressed: “In “democratic” procedures (which, of course, can have a positive role to play), no matter how radical our anti-capitalism, solutions are sought solely through those democratic mechanisms which themselves form part of the apparatuses of the “bourgeois” state that guarantees the undisturbed reproduction of capital. In this precise sense, Badiou was right to claim that today the name of the ultimate enemy is not capitalism, empire, exploitation, or anything similar, but democracy itself. It is the “democratic illusion,” the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as providing the only framework for all possible change, which prevents any radical transformation of capitalist relations.”


Closely linked to this need to de-fetishize democracy is the need to de-fetishize its negative counterpart, namely violence. Badiou has recently proposed the formula of “defensive violence”: renounce violence as the principal modus operandi, and focus instead on creating free spaces at a distance from state power (like the early Solidarno in Poland); resort to violence only when the state itself uses violence to crush and subdue these “liberated zones.” The trouble with this formula is that it relies on a deeply problematic distinction between the “normal” functioning of the state apparatuses and the “excessive” exercise of state violence. In contrast, the Marxist notion of class struggle — more precisely, of the priority of class struggle over classes conceived as positive social entities — proposes the thesis that “peaceful” social life is itself sustained by (state) violence, i.e., that it is an expression or effect of the predominance of one class over another. In other words, one cannot separate violence from the state conceived as an apparatus of class domination: from the standpoint of the oppressed, the very existence of a state is a violent fact (in the same sense in which Robespierre claimed there was no need to prove that the king had committed any crime, since the very existence of the king was a crime in itself, an offense against the freedom of the people). In this sense, every act of violence against the state on the part of the oppressed is ultimately “defensive.” Not to concede this point is, nolens volens, to “normalize” the state and accept that its own acts of violence are merely contingent excesses to be dealt with through democratic reforms. This is why the standard liberal motto — that violence is never legitimate, even though it may sometimes be necessary to resort to it — is insufficient. From a radical emancipatory perspective, this formula should be reversed: for the oppressed, violence is always legitimate (since their very status is the result of the violence they are exposed to), but never necessary (it will always be a matter of strategy whether or not use violence against the enemy)

Spicy Stuff!

Read the entire excerpt here.

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