Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism

October 11, 2008

A not too old Article in the London Review of Books:

Although the Communist regimes were mostly a dismal failure, generating terror and misery, at the same time they opened up a space for utopian expectations which, among other things, facilitated the failure of Communism itself. What anti-Communist dissidents such as Havel overlook, then, is that the very space from which they criticised and denounced terror and misery was opened and sustained by Communism’s attempt to escape the logic of capitalism.

It ends on a somewhat weird note:

This, then, is Havel’s tragedy: his authentic ethical stance has become a moralising idiom cynically appropriated by the knaves of capitalism. His heroic insistence on doing the impossible (opposing the seemingly invincible Communist regime) has ended up serving those who ‘realistically’ argue that any real change in today’s world is impossible. This reversal is not a betrayal of his original ethical stance, but is inherent in it. The ultimate lesson of Havel’s tragedy is thus a cruel, but inexorable one: the direct ethical foundation of politics sooner or later turns into its own comic caricature, adopting the very cynicism it originally opposed.

It makes me think of Nietzsche’s comment that “we wait centuries for great men, and centuries more to get rid of them” (or something to that effect). That is, Lenin (as Z writes at the beginning of the article) shouldn’t have been turned into a fetish, but allowed to die and disappear. The ‘openness’ of the revolutionary becomes closed…but this seems too cynical. Perhaps the answer lies in the phrase “direct ethical foundation” – that the orginal foundation should not be allowed to remain as such, that ‘new values’ need to be created as political projects continue. That is, it seems to me he is saying that it is more ethical to give up on your original ethical stance when the conditions that made that stance possible disappear, that one must ‘posit NEW presuppositions’ as material conditions change…



One Response to “Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism”

  1. The Universal Singular said

    True dat! I think that this is, essentially, one of Laclau’s points (one that I think Zizek would agree with) in his article, ‘Beyond Emancipation’ (in Emancipation(s)).
    In a nutshell, he claims that every emancipation posits the presuppositions of its own possibility, it posits the grounds for its own legitimacy, retroactively. As a result, it creates new conditions for emancipation.

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