The task of the revolutionary is violence: contrary thoughts on Zizek and Badiou

from+greenwich+to+london+bridge2_1082390670The task of the revolutionary is indeed to be violent, but also to avoid the type of violence that is, in fact, merely an impotent passage a l’acte.

Slavoj Zizek | Interview | Divine Violence and Liberated Territories | SOFT TARGETS Journal

I’m not an enormous fan of Zizek to be honest, though I find it interesting that he is facing this question of violence, politics and the act. Here, this curious double-handed way of somehow making the violent rational or understandable is found in the ’indeed…but also’ move of the rhetoric, such that it appears like ’we can all accept that the revolution will involve violence but let’s not allow meaningless violence or violence without the right meaning into our validation of the revolutionary act’. The strange reality of violence is found, however, less in this ’right meaning’ but in the potency of the violence, in the potency of the force of condensation of singularities. Zizek talks in the interview linked to above about the ideas of a ’divine’ violence (citing Walter Benjamin) or a moment of institution that institutes whilst being an exception to that which is instituted (citing Schmitt) but this all and Zizek’s own position itself seems to somehow still be part of a discourse of legitimating violence, even if this takes the route of somehow legitimating its illegitimacy in some curious dance of the paradoxical.

This becomes clearer as Zizek marks his own territory, alongside that rather strange new phenomenon of hailing Badiou as the new theoretician of the left. Zizek says “I agree with what Badiou said in the recent interview with you published in Il Manifesto: “those who have nothing have only their discipline.” This is why I like to mockingly designate myself “Left-fascist” or whatever!” What exactly is it that ’those who have nothing’ have nothing of? Presumably something like power.

The fist, the symbol of the unity of the proletariat, was always taught to me as a symbol of the ’strength in unity’. The ’party’ then morphs this collective strength from a technique that must be acknowledged to a tool that must be maintained and the model of ’democratic centralism’ attempts to add a head to the fist, establish a command structure such that the fist can be pulled out at any moment – and of course, retracted at any moment. The negotiation of power thus begins, ’revolutionary’ becomes the name for the organiser who can punch – and pull punches. Power becomes something wielded rather than something acknowledged. Instead, I would argue, ’discipline’ is a completely abstract and essentially redundant term. Unity, loyalty, honour – above all ’friendship’, these would be words that I might begin to form a concept of the revolutionary struggle with. Discipline is always for a task, it imposes unity according to a law rather than acknowledging unity as a force – discipline is that which enables someone else to tell me what to do, even if that someone else is me. It is essentially invidious since it’s purpose is the maintenance of a particular regime. What, after all, is it that discipline supposedly offers? Resistance to dissipation? A strategy against the organised force?

Zizek argues at one place in this interview for a kind of rehabilitation of the role of the State within leftist discourse. In this he is plainly part of a general dynamic to counter the anarchist hegemony within the anti-globalisation movement (whatever the fuck that is now), in which state, party, discipline, hierarchy and control are all concepts which increasingly seem redundant. The fashionable intellectual of course knows that their position depends on them not agreeing, having something to say that is not being said and thereby they take the role of characterising the ’general talk’ as lacking something and insert their own name/concept/quote/soundbite as part of that which might resolve/overcome the lack. Deleuze and Guattari and plainly the targets, with their supposedly political instantiation being found in Antoni Negri and his work ’Empire’. “Today, the language of transgression is the ruling ideology.” Zizek says (the characterisation of the current situation). This, Zizek seems to go on to say, is the problem, it misses the need for discipline, for agreement. Zizek again: “I think we need to oppose the language of “ligne de fuite” (that is, oppose any language which refers back to a Deleuzo-Guattarian concept) and self-organization (that is, any notion of an anarchistic form of political struggle) and so on with something that is completely taboo on the Left today—like garlic for the vampire—namely, the idea of large State or even larger collective decisions“. This appears rooted in the bizarre and curiously existentialist sounding concept from Badiou of the ’event of truth’ and ’those who stand for the universal singularity’.

I don’t have any immediate answers as to why this all sounds so wrong, though it does. To begin with it seems simply part of the very fashionable reworking of political and philosophical concepts that Zizek himself notes within this interview (“You know, the Left produces a new model every ten years or so.” – I think he is right on this but that Badiou, not Negri, is the new version of this fashion parade.) This, however, is a merely sociological objection – I might not like it but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right, it just might rankle with something in my own sociological and political make-up. More crucially I think something like an attempt to articulate a politics and a philosophy which allows a space of decision and allows a space of subjective priority or power is at work in both Zizek and Badiou. In this they are not alone and seem part of a long tradition within marxist and revolutionary theory, from the explicit combinations of existentialism and marxism, through the slogans of ’the personal is political and the political is personal’, to the debate about Marx’s own humanism and his pre- or post- 1844 position. In response to this it seems that the very notion of a subject has to be purged from politics and replaced with positions of subjectivity. The revolutionary, in this sense, is a position, whilst also and obviously being instantiated in a particular but instantiated as an Idea. To declare oneself a revolutionary – as I would and do at times – is more akin to the moment in that film of Spartacus where, upon questioning by a Roman centurion, a whole crowd of slaves declare in unison “I am Spartacus”. There is no choice at that moment. There is no ’peer group presurre’, ideological compulsion or latent self-hatred or martyrdom complex, there is simply the event of disruption of identity. ’I’ (whoever I thought I was) no longer matters and the event of my becoming occurs by being forced. This is why the revolutionary is above all violence and not violent. The revolutionary is the violence of a disappearing subject and the birth of a new world without subjection. It occurs not in discipline, not in a ’saying yes’ but in an affirmation of the ’no’ that is no negation but rather a realisation in the actual of the force of the event, the force of the Idea.

I still have much to do in trying to think through this whole concept of politics from a philosophical perspective which takes it’s bearings from the moment of the revolutionary and violence. These are nothing more than incoherent notes in many ways. To them I would add one of the guiding thoughts, that of vice-diction, that motivates the thought at the moment and which has been lumbering around in my own conceptual world for a while now, a quote from Deleuze to be found in his book Difference and Repetititon:

Vice-diction has two procedures which intervene both in the determination of the conditions of the problem and in the correlative genesis of cases of solution: these are, in the first case, the specification of adjunct fields and, in the second, the condensation of singularities. On the one hand, in the progressive determination of the conditions, we must in effect discover the adjunctions which complete the initial field of the problem as such – in other words, the varieties of the multiplicity in all its dimensions, the fragments of ideal future or past events which, by the same token, render the problem solvable; and we must establish the modality in which these enclose or are connected with the initial field. On the other hand, we must condense all the singularities, precipitate all the circumstances, points of fusion, congelation or condensation in a sublime occasion, Kairos, which makes the solution explode like something abrupt, brutal and revolutionary. Having an Idea is this as well. It is as though every Idea has two faces, which are like love and anger: love in the search for fragments, the progressive determination and linking of the ideal adjoint fields; anger in the condensation of singularities which, by dint of ideal events, defines the concentration of a ’revolutionary situation’ and causes the Idea to explode into the actual. It is in this sense that Lenin had Ideas.

(DR: Athlone; 190 / Continuum; 239)

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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  1. notebookeleven » Blog Archive » class, experience and affect

    […] This notion connects for me to the Deleuzian connection of Ideas with Lenin mentioned in the previous post and interestingly in my notebooks where the Gramsci quote was found, the next note was another quotation, this time from Merleau-Ponty and again a resonance with Deleuze: […]

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