It is usually explained as being an attempt to speak in a language everyone can understand – presumably to win him or her to a better and more profound standpoint. But it isn’t, and it doesn’t! Instead, it is bound to pull the writer into the “currently dominant” standpoint, where such definitions have been developed over centuries to fit what basic assumptions and explanations were readily available, and indeed, in common use.
And, the question has to be asked, “Who would have been in a position to both formulate and disseminate such concepts?"
Is it the man in the street? Definitely not!
It will always be the products of those in power: those will have the education to be able to express such things, and the wherewithall to be able to disseminate them through their “owned” organs of information.
Any radical motive cannot be easily maintained in such circumstances, and the prophet, in seeking resonances with an alien readership, and in order to get into print, can very easily become the apologist!
The contradictions in meaning between any revolutionary criticisms and the acceptance of the status quo, can never be resolved, as the words used only make any kind of sense in their currently employed meanings: and who is it that will be doing the using? The dominant standpoint within a society that produced the current meanings of that vocabulary will unavoidably be those of the people in charge, and NOT the mass of the population, who for most of their history couldn’t even read, never mind write!
So, the “radical Marxist”, attempting to make a living in the highest institutions of learning must explain things using the accepted vocabulary of those who will make up the vast majority of his colleagues, though couched in the occasional words that seem to be revolutionary (but aren’t!)
Slavoj ŽiŽek seems to be the perfect example of this!
On reading the Introduction to his book In Defense of Lost Causes, he manages to set the stage for this long book, by excusing the “failures” of revolutionaries, and he does it by revealing their clear good intentions. He even calls their “evident virtues” – idealism – a quality of trying to achieve a better world. But rather than the usual advice to therefore, “Give up now you’ll never do it”, he alternatively says that unavoidable failure is really the best that anyone can ever do!
Isn’t that stimulating?
“NO!” And, if you think that, you are right!
Here is the absolutely-guaranteed, safe revolutionary for you!
Does this self appointed prophet not know what Idealism really is? And it has absolutely nothing to do with Marxist revolutionaries. They are nothing if they are not the most realist operators in the world! Real philosophical Idealism is the direct opposite to Materialism, and Marxists are avowedly materialists! They commit to an entirely materialist standpoint, which takes Matter as primary, and attempts to explain things in terms of the entities present, their properties and their inter-relationships.
And, in case anyone is assuming that these Marxists see everything in purely mechanistic terms – the exact opposite is the case! Their standpoint is the only one that can both deal with real qualitative change, and is also essentially multi-disciplinary!
Indeed, these two philosophical words have very different meanings to what ŽiŽek attaches to them: and his meanings are those of the ruling classes, NOT those of committed revolutionaries.
Instead of the idealism of the status quo defenders, revolutionaries see Idealism as a standpoint that has the whole of reality determined entirely by eternal abstract laws, which can be totally encapsulated in purely formal equations. Contrast this with ŽiŽek’s chosen interpretation as a yearning for something better. And, if he were to be consistent with his chosen language, he would also use materialism to mean chasing after material gain, wealth and position. Not even remotely similar are they?
And yet, such very different meanings were considered crucial by real Marxists. Not only Marx and Engels, but also Lenin took this position, and wrote an important book entitled Materialism and Empirio Criticism to counter an idealist trend within the Bolshevik Party (led, I believe, by Lunacharsky, who after the Revolution became the Minister for Education in the Revolutionary Government)
So ŽiŽek’s introduction establishes an amazing position!
One side of it has already been established above in his choice of language, and the second must be his breathtaking apology for the catastrophes following the Russian Revolution, which he, along with the enemies of that revolution, sees as inevitable, but in his case somehow excusable too!
His "inevitable consequence" was no such thing, for it took Stalin many years, a World context of active hostility, and even military interventions by 14 capitalist powers, and, in addition, there was an externally, as well as internally wealth-sponsored Civil War, with the Royalists and Capitalist attempting to overthrow the Revolutionary Regime.
And, even then for Stalin to complete his proposed transformation, internal dedicated revolutionaries had to be successively removed, imprisoned and executed, or even pursued and assassinated (as was Trotsky) to achieve this supposedly “inevitable result”
It’s an odd kind of inevitability is it not? It’s a bit like the opposite of damning Stalin with faint praise to excuse this traitor to the revolution, both in Russia and worldwide!
Let us put our self professed revolutionary Marxist in his proper context!
You can picture a dinner party in London (say) where the “radical” ŽiŽek had been invited to entertain the gathering where various very comfortable academics could “discuss” ŽiŽek’s ideas without any rancour, and with conclusions such as, “All Revolutions are bound to fail!” and “Their idealism simply doesn’t match with Reality”, not to mention, “The inherent greed and insufficiency of people guarantees ultimate failure.” And, such a group beating up ŽiŽek with their mutually agreed vocabulary, could go home to their own comfortable beds, and sleep peacefully!
And such a description is certainly accurate, for this writer was similarly invited to such a Dinner Party for the same reasons, and with a similar bunch of invitees. The only difference was, that I didn’t speak their language, and if anything they went home worried to death!
Also, watching a discussion programme on TV yesterday, a wholly similar social situation was evident. And in a similar way to how I have described the certain treatment of ŽiŽek, with a similar Aunt Sally as he, it was clear that no matter what were the professed affiliations of the participants they all used exactly the same language, and just as effectively tidied away as ineffectual, idealist and bound-to-fail were all revolutionary threats.
Yet somehow major interventions, or their possibility, were constantly coming up in response to the Arab Spring, and you have to ask, which side they would be on when it came to resolving the situation!
P.S. And this is only in response to ŽiŽek ‘s Introduction!
Once more into the breech, dear friends!
For, on thinking about ŽiŽek’s lead-in to In Defense of Lost Causes, I felt that I should do the same with the introduction to his book On Belief.
And it was indeed the right decision. For, he analyses the debate occurring in 2000 on US TV in which clerics from the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist faiths discussed religion and Heaven. The Baptist explained that many “good people” would most certainly end up in Hell, as they hadn’t committed themselves to Christ during their lives.
And such an unwavering “principle”, ŽiŽek likened to that shown by Lenin in his revolutionary activities in Russia, and in his “re-casting” of Marx’s position with respect to political tasks.
[Clearly this academic philosopher is scared to death by such intransigence!]
But, of course, such a supposed resonance, could only be found by a modern “opponent” of Liberal Capitalist compromise, and was totally disregarding of the actual political natures of these two completely opposite men. For it handily coupled the two extremes as essentially similar in their steadfast positions. It is, of course, total and completely irresponsible rubbish, and sees them both as steadfast in their “beliefs”!
And, to thereafter promote himself, as ŽiŽek does, as being on the same side as Lenin, is total nonsense. As Trotsky said when describing such people as ŽiŽek – “They wear the yellow jacket of rebellion, but are still fast asleep in their beds when the factory gates are receiving workers in their thousands”. That would be anathema to someone like ŽiŽek: he is an informed faker, and no revolutionary!
Even mentioning Lenin’s name in a book about belief soils Lenin’s real and significant contributions, and effectively demotes a revolutionary commitment to merely another kind of “idealist” belief! Clearly, this analyser of Society is no Marxist at all, and certainly no revolutionary.
He, though, takes, along with all the enemies of that revolution, a position in opposition to Liberal Capitalism and compromise, which will resonate very well with the Right in US politics.
What a remarkable stance, it is so full of contradictions, it is no wonder he is visibly in constant, jerking agitation when he speaks, but it will certainly get readers. For if he (even if only apparently) took a Leninist Bolshevik stance, he would be crucified as are all such dangerous outsiders, so he wisely appeals to all sorts of people, and he does it from an evidently impotent, yet “clever radical” standpoint. Can you guess which side he will be on when the time comes?
I vividly remember innumerable avowedly “marxist” tendencies in the UK, when the troubles escalated in Northern Ireland, they all supported the sending of troops “to defend the republican Catholics” against the then rampant unionist mobs.
But, whom were they used against?
Any Marxist would know that immediately!
That betrayal, more than any number of written treatises, revealed their real position. Only one tendency opposed the sending of troops and they were the nearest thing to revolutionary Marxists at that time. And I know this because I was in that tendency!