Two conferences, three papers and one ppt. presentation destined for mistrustful economists and philosophers of science were enough to keep me away from this blog for more than a month (hope I am excused). That it simply took one Zizek appearance to induce a short comeback is certainly indicative of the bad state of my imagination these days… Unless this lack of imagination can be partly attributed to the unwillingness of some leading intellectuals to start “thinking” rather than merely (re)acting to the financial crisis, as Zizek himself suggested in a recent popular video or implied in his OWS talk.
Anyway, I just stumbled upon his common interview with Alexis Tsipras, the head of the greek radical left (and government opposition) SYRIZA party. The Greek media (as well as several facebook intellectuals) urged to reprimand Zizek for his gulag joke near the end of this video. And ok, I can understand this reprimand insofar as the Greek government coalition launches a riduculously populist rhetoric against SYRIZA, identifying it as the opposite extremist pole of neonazism. But Zizek does not experience the schizophrenic tension of Greek everyday life where every metaphor or joke is taken literally by citizens who are ready to tear their interlocutor apart at the sound of one wrong word. So let’s grant him yet another joke.
However, on the level of a European (if not cosmopolitan) Left and on the basis of Zizek’s own concern for “the day after”, he is simply unforgivable. For while he recognizes that mere protests with vague humanitarian claims are not enough for some substantial change to emerge in Europe and while he sees the need for a solid political force (either in the form of a party or in that of a social movement or preferably both) to summarize all these claims into a coherent strategy, he misses out the most important and most problematic part: the economy. The problem of a functional economic planning that does not violate the freedoms it professes to promote remains the biggest thorn in the Left wing theory. And as regards its history, nearly a century of communist States should have at least taught us that what you are free to do is not independent from how you are allowed to do it –viz. that freedom of the ends (whether political, ethical or both) is not independent from the freedom of the means (economic freedom, which is not necessarily market freedom). On this tremendously important aspect Zizek remains obstinately silent.
Zizek sees SYRIZA as the most hopeful political alternative that has emerged in Europe. But hope should not and cannot be restricted to slogans without strategy -however important their content. Such neglect would be in fact dangerous in many ways that need not be described here. What is important to stress is that SYRIZA is shockingly vague as regards the burning issue of economic policy (either of Greece as a member-state of the EU or as a potentially independent state with national currency). Some of my previous entries (here and here) point to this complete lack of a coherent economic strategy. To be sure, not even the leading members of SYRIZA seem to have a consistent idea on some perspective economic policy. For those of us who are pessimistically realists, the most plausible scenario is that in lack of any serious economic alternative and given its pro-European position, if SYRIZA gets elected it will have to fall back to a social-democratic approach, replacing the now decadent and formerly ruling PASOK party. However, as recent history taught us, social democratic governments involved in the EU (e.g. the government of Francois Hollande in France) have contributed little if none to the abolition of austerity policies, not only in Europe in general, but also within their own country.
Of course one would argue with Zizek that several aspects of radical democracy are more than important, especially during this strange conjuncture for capitalism. But direct democracy, radicalized rights and everything else cannot substitute for a serious solution as to how these things are going to be implemented in a State that has not solved the economic enigma that the current recession poses.
I will not stop believing that this question constitutes the greatest and most reliable chance for the Left to make a serious political comeback. At the same time, insofar as it shies away from addressing this problem while at the same time being empowered day-by-day, then it merely betrays an obstinate and dangerous passion for power.
Maybe it’s time for the Left to open up some black boxes (one of them being is the famous “socialist calculation debate”). It finally needs to accept that as capitalism produces crises it can well overcome through the implementation of several injustices, so central planning is founded upon enforced injustices in order to remain (or appear) sustainable. More generally, the Left needs to rethink the question of the golden rule between social injustice and the economy and restate it beyond the inconsistencies of social democracy. And maybe most importantly, it needs to take the role of technology and of financial institutions into serious account.
Let’s hope it won’t take another crisis before it does.