Where I part company with Slavoj Žižek (see previous posts 1 | 2) is, in the end, his unapologetic Marxist-Leninism, and in particular his apparent support for a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. As he writes
One of the mantras of the postmodern Left has been that we should finally leave behind the “Jacobin-Leninist” paradigm of centralized dictatorial power. But perhaps the time has come to turn this mantra around and admit that a good dose of just that “Jacobin-Leninist” paradigm is precisely what the Left needs today. (First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, p.125)
This includes what Žižek describes as the four “invariants” of communism:
strict egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political voluntarism, and trust in the people.
And yes, he did just say “disciplinary terror”. Now, as this blogger suggests, there is probably more than a hint of épater le bourgeois to this: a desire to shock bourgeois liberal opinion. As Terry Eagleton points out in a review of one of Žižek’s other books:
His aim is not to justify such demented views, but to make things harder for the typical liberal middle-class dismissal of them.
And certainly there is value in being reminded of how liberal democracy can function as a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, and equally how democracy is far from inevitable as a consequence of capitalism (as evidenced by “capitalism with Asian values” on the one hand, and the post-democratic populism of a politician such as Silvio Berlusconi in the West).
But really, whatever the flaws of liberal democracy, they pale in comparison to the catastrophic consequences of the dictatorship of the proletariat (or at least of regimes claiming to be the dictatorship of the proletariat). The response to these consequences has to be better thanŽižek’s mantra throughout First As Tragedy (taken from Beckett’s Worstward Ho!): “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I’m not an anarchist any more than I am a Marxist, but one of the principles I find most attractive in anarchism is the idea that those looking to change society should themselves prefigure the society they are looking to create. (This is one reason why I find the co-operative movement appealing: it represents an attempt to prefigure a future society founded on cooperation and free association, while at the same time providing practical benefits today.)
The failure of “Really Existing Marxism” in the 20th century arose from its claim that dictatorial means could achieve libertarian ends. In Ellulian terms, it was an attempt to use the power of “the prince of this world” to conquer “mammon” (to which we can then apply Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:25,26); the Diggers would have said that Marxist-Leninism was just “kingly power” under a new guise. The consequences of this had been predicted by anarchists and others even within Marx’s lifetime, half a century or more before the Russian Revolution.
“Try again, fail again, fail harder”? No, not good enough. Time to try something else instead.