Leo Panitch…

August 4, 2008

In Defence of Lost Causes Zizek again declares his interest in Chavez’s actions in Venezuela, and speaks against Negri’s enthusiasm for Brazil. In this video of a talk given by YorkU prof Leo Panitch about workers movements in Brazil, we get a glimpse of the reason why: The government of Brazil has made no anti-capitalist policies…

And here’s an interview where Panitch talks about the relevance of class struggle and makes a short commentary on the failings of Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.


12 Responses to “Leo Panitch…”

  1. sonnyburnett said

    Just a cursory glance at the interview leads me to think that Panitch’s “we need socialist strategies that are founded on the recognition of the diversity of the working classes” (which presupposes some common ground – class? class struggle?), is exactly what Zizek argues against.

    Am I off on this?

  2. battleofthegiants said

    My first inclination is to say yes, you’re a little off. Zizek talks about class struggle all the time, taking the classic Marxist line that capitalism is exploitation by definition. The twist that he adds is the the ‘proletariat’ isn’t necessarily a role that will be taken up by the working class per se, but some group that will take the place of the ‘negative universal’ and bring about an ‘act’ that will break the exploitative capitalist system…

    It seems to me that talking about ‘the diversity of the working class’ and the potential of having a group that isn’t ‘working class’ per se arn’t that far apart…

  3. sonnyburnett said

    So is it fair to call Panitch Zizekian?

    Here’s the trouble I see with a simple ‘let’s recognize & develope a strategy based on a recognition of diversity of the working class’ with that strategy being overdetermined by & grounded by class (struggle), as any good socialist would insist:

    this stance is not saying anything different than what socialists have been saying since Marx’s day. That, Ok, all these feminist positions, radical ecological theorist positions, etc etc have a ‘false’ consciousness, so the trick is to get everyone to minimally endorse the ‘objective’ fact of exploitation, of the class struggle, in order to bring everyone on the ‘same page’ & a ‘true’ consciousness.

    Perhaps you can read Z as having this stance, but isn’t he saying that class stuggle is homologous to Lacan’s ‘there is no sexual relation’ – that just as you can’t substantialize this ‘fact’, neither can you substantialize class antagonism.

    I know that a lot of theorists accuse Z of being a ‘hidden essentialist’ of sorts, of having a fundamental entry point into his analysis (Butler comes to mind), but Z emphatically denies this. Emphatically denies any ‘essence’ to his approach.

    This question is very much on my mind these days. I’m trying to put together an ‘overall’ picture of Z’s anti-capitalist stance & his ‘What is to be done’, the proper stance the radical Left should take seems to really break away from the standard view Panitch seems to take.

    Do you know where he comes out relatively clear on his position on this matter? Which of his books? (I’m basing most of my understanding of the above on a gut feeling at this point, since I’ve never really focused my efforts on his politics, but I’m starting to more & more).

  4. battleofthegiants said

    I recommend taking a look at the last section of _Defence of lost causes_, especially the stuff on subtraction. There he argues that you have to strip down to the ‘one opression that rules them all’…

    I think Zizek is ‘anti-essential’ in a similar way the Heidegger is anti-essential. There is an essence, but it’s not immutable. This is, of course, the Real: there always is one, but it isn’t ever the same – The Real of capitalism isn’t the same as the Real of another era.

    And I think you can substantialize exploitation: that’s substance become subject, i.e. the proletariat as Zizek describes it.

    And I think it’s substantialized in every instance of opression: that is, there is some element of the universal in every particular: ‘wherever a single black mother is denied the means of survival, class struggle is there; wherever a factory closes, class struggle is there; whereever there is wage labour and commodity markets, economic exploitation is there’ etc, etc. Z makes A really great move in DoLC about how economics overdetermines politics and other levels of social existence – including the economy itself. I can’t rehearse it here – I don’t have my book with me. When I get home in a few weeks I’ll track down the reference.

    In several places in SOI Z argues that the Real is only ever felt in its effects. It’s in that sense that I think the Real can be ‘substantialized’. It doesn’t exist as something beyond the real world that can somehow be discovered in-itself; it exists in the surface of everyday interactions. Hence Z’s insistance that the ‘proletariat’ need not be the working class per se: if capitalism exploitation is in every social aspect of life under capital, then any group can become the ‘universal subject’ so long as they make their struggle aimed at the universal and not the particular…

    A great deal of SOI is about essence – he talks alot about post-structuralism/deconstruction there (and It’s in that category I think he would place Butler). I know he criticizes that book for ‘substantializing the Real’ as a ‘hard rock’, but in DoLC he rehabilitates that reading somewhat, writing how the Real can be though both as ‘hard rock’ and as non-substantial. And, to be honest, when reading SOI I rarely feel like he’s talking about the Real as if it is substantial. I think both takes on the Real are in there, which is why he’s able to take it up again in DoLC.

  5. battleofthegiants said

    The idea that the ‘Real is felt only in its effects’ can, I think, also be seen in Marx’s assertion in _Capital_ that capitalists are only the representatives of their own little capitals and the commodities they put on the market. It’s here that you can also see how this takes a step away from essentialism: a capitalist doesn’t have capitalism programmed into their genes, they only take a place in a social and historical matrix.

    I’m reading Malcolm X’s autobiography right now, and it’s when he makes a similar step that he begins to walk away from essentializing the ‘white devil’ and seeing racism as the product of a long history of oppression that continues today:

    “Unless we call one white man, by name, a ‘devil’, we are not speaking of any _individual_ white man. We are speaking of the _collective_ white man’s _historical_ record. We are speaking of the collective white man’s cruelties, and evils, and greeds, that have seen him _act_ like a devil toward the non-white man (page 271).”

    That is, the slave trade is directly linked to the huge, unrepresentative number of black people in American prisons, as much as it’s not talked about in those terms (at least, not that I hear, but I’m by no means plugged in…). As long as people keep to the social system as it exists, they are representatives of it’s underlying constitutive trauma.

    (I guess I’m implicitly calling all the small, personal capitals ‘traumas’ in the sense of a repressed ‘primitive accumulation’ – ‘property is theft’, as they say.)

    While I’m on it, there are a bunch on things in the Malcolm X autobio that also remind me of Lenin: First is his description of the Civil Rights March, which he laments turned into a ‘gentle flood’ rather than being an ‘angry riptide’. The way he tells it, the march began as a spontaneous, militant and unorganized movement, but once the powers that be got wind of it, they actively transformed it into an organized event:

    “The marchers had been instructed to bring no signs – signs were provided. They had been told to sing one song: ‘We Shall overcome’. They had been told _how_ to arrive, _when_, _where_ to arrive, _where_ to assemble, when to _start_ marching, the _route_ to march. First-aid stations were strategically located – even where to _faint_!… These ‘angry revolutionists’ even followed their final instructions: to leave early. WIth all of those thousands upon thousands of ‘angry revolutionists’, so few stayed over that the next morning the Washington hotel association reported a costly loss in empty rooms” (286-7).

    While it may be that he wanted to see an angry explosion in Washington, you might also be able to read this as a case of the difference between “spontaneity and spontaneity” (Lenin) – i.e. the impulse from below, had it been chaneled by an organization like X’s Nation of Islam, would have had differnt results. Instead of complaining that no Congressman or Senator who had been against Civil rights had changed their mind after the march, he might have been able to boast of some gain.

    You can also see a vein of “There is no middle way” in there too: “Yes, I am an extremist. The black race here in North America is in extremely bad condition. You show me a black man who isn’t an extremist and I’ll show you one who needs psychiatric attention!”(401-2). In this light his repeated remarks that what blacks needed was not civil rights, but the accordance and full human rights and the recognition by the UN that the US had committed an enourmous crime in denying those rights for 400 years can be seen as pushing for a univeralist rather than particularist struggle…

    Lastly (and this is WAY off topic) this autobiography was crafted by Alex Haley, who presented it to Malcolm X for approval after about a year of interviews with X. After the first month Haley fretted that the book would go nowhere because X wouldn’t talk about himself, but only Elijah Muhammed. It was only Haley’s intervention in the silence after one of X’s long empassioned rants that made the project move forward: “I wonder if you’d tell me something about your mother?” (397)! Later (page 400) X describes how he had blocked his mother out of his mind, and how white people do the same with ragards to blacks.

    The Autobiography is, then, almost like a super-detailed case study, where you find X changing his mind about essentializing the problem, and expressing his beleif in the possibility of uniting all people.


  6. sonnyburnett said

    Your reply just triggered some old memories I have of my parents taking me to a drive-in theater to see ‘Drum’ (back in 76, judging from when it was released), a grindhouse film on pre-civil war slavery. I have no point to sharing this, really. I think there was an uprising by the slaves, a mass escape maybe.

    But it was all there on the screen, for us to consume. Organized, mediated, like what you wrote about Malcom X’s take on that march, that once the powers got to it, they sucked out whatever true liberating potential there was & channelled it into acceptable ways.

    Reminds me of a self-promoting media campaign run by MTV back in the 80’s: “The revolution will be televised.” That as soon as we take to the streets, there will be cameras & thus any ‘immediacy’ of experience is by definition ‘mediated’.

    That was about the time I seriously started questioning whether anything could actually be done collectively to change our condition or are we just destined to individually or in small groups to scurry away into those rat-holes that Babylon provides us with from time to time to set up a temporary autonomous zone. You know, drop out, join a commune in Israel, go to Tibet & become some kick-shitting peasant. Tho I’d miss blogs & email & air conditioning.

    Does anyone know where Zizek develops a notion of capitalism’s fundamental fantasy, or the proletariat/working class’ fundamental fantasy? Which book? I suspect I came across it in one of his texts with a poor index. Driving me a bit crazy for the last 2 days.

  7. battleofthegiants said

    In “Lenin’s Choice” he talks about a Deridian take on Capitalism that he likes, but he criticizes it saying that it falls into capitalism’s fantasy of itself as self-perpetuating.

    As for ‘working class’ FF, I don’t remember having ever read anything that would sound like that…

    SOI makes me think, however, that commodity fetishism is the FF of capitalism for both.


  8. sonnyburnett said

    Is ‘Lenin’s Choice’ an essay he wrote or a subsection in one of his books? I found something online that is titled ‘Repeating Lenin’ with the former title as a subsection.

  9. battleofthegiants said

    “LC” is the expanded version of what you found. It’s about 200 pages long and bound with a bunch of letters by Lenin in _Revolution at the Gates_:


  10. sonnyburnett said

    Ahhh. I’m an idiot! I JUST finished that book not more than a week ago!

    I think I’m losing it.

  11. battleofthegiants said

    I forgot to bring the book with me to the library, but the stuff I was talking about in DoLC is on pages 288-94. I’ll have to double check that, though…


  12. battleofthegiants said

    (Lukacs quoting Marx on the bourgeois fantasy of self-perpetuating money:)

    Just as the capitalist system continuously produces and reproduces itself economically on higher and higher levels, the structure of reification progressively sinks more deeply, more fatefully and more definitively into the consciousness of man. Marx often describes this potentiation of reification in incisive fashion. One example must suffice here:

    “In interest-bearing capital, therefore, this automatic fetish, self-expanding value, money generating money is brought out in its pure state and in this form it no longer bears the birth-marks of its origin. The social relation is consummated in the relation of a thing, of money, to itself. Instead of the actual transformation of money into capital, we see here only form without content. . . . It becomes a property of money to generate value and yield interest, much as it is an attribute of pear trees to bear pears. And the money-lender sells his money as just such an interest-bearing thing. But that is not all. The actually functioning capital, as we have seen, presents itself in such a light that it seems to yield interest not as functioning capital, but as capital in itself, as money-capital. This, too, becomes distorted. While interest is only a portion of the profit, i.e. of the surplus value, which the functioning capitalist squeezes out of the labourer, it appears now, on the contrary, as though interest were the typical product of capital, the primary matter, and profit, in the shape of profit of enterprise, were a mere accessory and by-product of the process of reproduction. Thus we get a fetish form of capital, and the conception of fetish capital. In M-M’ we have the meaningless form of capital, the perversion and objectification of production relations in their highest degree, the interest-bearing form, the simple form of capital, in which it antecedes its own process of reproduction. It is the capacity of money, or of a commodity, to expand its own value independently of reproduction – which is a mystification of capital in its most flagrant form. For vulgar political economy, which seeks to represent capital as an independent source of value, of value creation, this form is naturally a veritable find. a form in which the source of profit is no longer discernible, and in which the result of the capitalist process of production – divorced from the process – acquires an independent existence.”


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