There are long lists of demands on the Left, at least the noisy Left, the dye of PETA, the scuba infiltrators against G8, the haters of heifers…. But I’ve not seen the strategy categorized before.
Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy.
It might, for example, accept the hegemony, but continue to fight for reform within its rules (this is Third Way social democracy).
Or, it accepts that the hegemony is here to stay, but should nonetheless be resisted from its ‘interstices’.
Or, it accepts the futility of all struggle, since the hegemony is so all-encompassing that nothing can really be done except wait for an outburst of ‘divine violence’ – a revolutionary version of Heidegger’s ‘only God can save us.’
Or, it recognises the temporary futility of the struggle. In today’s triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism.
Or, it emphasises the fact that the problem is a more fundamental one, that global capitalism is ultimately an effect of the underlying principles of technology or ‘instrumental reason’.
Or, it posits that one can undermine global capitalism and state power, not by directly attacking them, but by refocusing the field of struggle on everyday practices, where one can ‘build a new world’; in this way, the foundations of the power of capital and the state will be gradually undermined, and, at some point, the state will collapse (the exemplar of this approach is the Zapatista movement).
Or, it takes the ‘postmodern’ route, shifting the accent from anti-capitalist struggle to the multiple forms of politico-ideological struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive re-articulation.
Or, it wagers that one can repeat at the postmodern level the classical Marxist gesture of enacting the ‘determinate negation’ of capitalism: with today’s rise of ‘cognitive work’, the contradiction between social production and capitalist relations has become starker than ever, rendering possible for the first time ‘absolute democracy’ (this would be Hardt and Negri’s position).
Slavoj Žižek from the International Centre for Humanities argues that none of these strategies are effective. We’re comfortable with them. Each approach has been integrated into our culture, becoming our culture, and thus is not inducive. We do not change when we’re comfortable.
Leaders have become so accustomed to the laundry list of impractical demands from the left that they now use them as sound bites with no intention to deliver on a pledge. How can they? The Left asks for what will never be.
Slavoj is asking for a different agitation. He wants a strategy that searches for small tasks, challenges that leaders cannot refuse.
“The lesson here is that the truly subversive thing is not to insist on ‘infinite’ demands we know those in power cannot fulfil.”