Monday, July 12, 2010

Now THIS is depressing

With finance capitalism now thoroughly discredited, there is a vacuum that needs to be filled.  Some political theory that explains the social order needs to be advanced.  And wouldn't you know it, some cranky old Marxists believe that their worldview should be preached again.  The rest of us are supposed to forget Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the gulag, Stasi, the Great Leap Forward, Ladas, Chernobyl, and the rest of the horrors of the various Marxist experiments because some fast-talking professors assure us the Marx was this brilliant but woefully misunderstood genius whose great theories were never properly tried.

But the twin catastrophes of finance capitalism and Marxism were abundantly obvious by the mid 1980s.  I wrote a book about it.  So did some other people.  I am currently re-reading Michael Lewis' 1989 book Liar's Poker about the bond markets of the 1980s and it is stunning how much he got right.  On the other side of the "Iron Curtain" people had become so fed up with the systemic idiocies of Marxism they were literally willing to risk their lives to change the system.  In the USSR the mother ship of Marxism, their leader Gorbachev was willing to risk social upheaval in order to question the theoretic assumptions of his government.

In my research, I discovered that there was an abundance of non-Marxist critiques of finance capitalism.  In fact, since most of the progressive thought in 19th century USA came as a response to the "Crime of 1873"--a crime of finance capitalism--it requires some serious scholarship to simply get up to speed with the critiques produced on a regular basis by those whose lives were affected by that financial calamity.  So goodness knows we don't need to re-invent the wheel here and we most certainly do not need to dig up poor Marx--who spent MOST of his life writing about industrial capitalism anyway.

But in Europe, there exists a long tradition of Marxist studies and there are quite a few people who sport advanced degrees.  So even though Marxism is a thoroughly discredited "brand," it is being dusted off because it is an analytic tool folks understand.  And to listen to the old Marxists pontificate is to understand why Marxism, for all it glorious idealism, was such an utter failure.  These guys are clowns.
'The Most Dangerous Philosopher in the West'
Welcome to the Slavoj Zizek Show
By Philipp Oehmke
In the midst of a crisis of capitalism, the Western underground is rediscovering communism. Its star is the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who mixes Marxism with pop culture and psychoanalysis. His appearances offer stand-up comedy for a radical leftist avant-garde.
It is five a.m. on a Friday morning, and Slavoj Zizek is on his way to the Idea of Communism Conference, traveling from Ljubljana to Berlin via Zurich. He finds it irritating that Alain Badiou, the French Maoist, will be making the introductory remarks.
And is it true, he wonders, that Toni -- Antonio Negri, a former sympathizer with the Red Brigades terrorist group -- is also coming, even though he is always at odds with Alain? When would Negri speak, what might he talk about and -- above all -- why has he, Slavoj Zizek, not been kept in the loop?
But Zizek doesn't have time to waste pondering these minor irritations. He's brought a few stacks of notes, which he must now use to write a one-and-a-half hour presentation during his two short flights. A bit about Marx, a lot about Hegel, something about Badiou's "communist hypothesis" (which, he reasons, he could criticize a little) and something about Negri's concept of the "multitude" (which he could even criticize sharply).
He can't find his notes. But it doesn't matter, because he is so full of thoughts that are just waiting to bubble out of him. He's packed an extra T-shirt for tomorrow or the next day. It's hot in Ljubljana, even at this early hour. Zizek is already sweating. The conference on communism begins in a few hours.
The Big Three
The Big Three, the great thinkers of the new left, will be speaking at the event, held at Berlin's Volksbühne Theater on a weekend in late June: Antonio Negri, an Italian in his late 70s, is a former political prisoner and the author of "Empire," the best known neo-Marxist bestseller of the last 10 years; Alain Badiou, a philosophy professor in Paris, is in his early 70s, very abstract, a Maoist and a universalist, and is searching for a new "communist hypothesis"; and Zizek, a Slovenian psychoanalyst in his early 60s who teaches philosophy in Ljubljana and is a visiting professor in London and Saas Fe, Switzerland, the "Elvis of Cultural Theory" (as he is referred to in a film). One of his bitterest opponents once called Zizek "the most dangerous philosopher in the West." It wasn't meant as a compliment, which is precisely why Zizek likes the nickname so much. more

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