One thing is decisive: that Marxism has contributed and always contributes to the impoverishment of political imagination. This is the point of our departure.
– Michel Foucault (1)
This is not a formal introduction. Yet something obliges me to introduce myself –so persistently that I feel compelled to write about it. Hence this is de facto an introduction on the importance of not succumbing to the temptation of introducing oneself when a given sense or gesture of “urgency” compels one to do so.
Still, I can almost read myself: “I am a middle-class Greek. I happen to be stuck in Athens, after a failed attempt to escape it. I want to convince myself that I am here in transit. This is why I prefer to stay at my mother’s place reading and trying to find some means to escape my purgatory. The conformism of my upper-middle class reveries secretly celebrates the complete crash of my country’s economy: since the job-market is dead, I won’t even have to consider Greece as an option.” I should be ashamed of myself –but I am not. For, if there is one thing that makes me hesitate to rip those quotation marks apart, is my active resistance to an identification that is not simply false, but even more indebted than my poor, devastated country.
Is it political to identify yourself? The question is not what kind of political animal I would be if I went to the Syntagma square and picked my weapon of choice (the communists, the leftists, the “real democracy” hipsters, their bankrupt parents or the pissed-off syndicates). Rather, the question is what type of political animal I would turn out to be if I joined them. For, the very fact that demonstrating or even revolting has become a matter of political choice reveals the very essence of what the present events are effectively calling me to do: in explicitly liberalist terms (“apples or pears?”), I am faced with several bundles of political identities and all I am asked to do is pick one according to my tastes. My hometown’s central square is a market full of political fruit that has admittedly gone off. And I do not intend to take even a bite from any of them.
At the same time this latent, ironic liberalism is being conflated with my “bad (left) conscience” persistently asking me to “act now.” This persistence is indicative of a given anxiety triggered by the fear of an unrealized potential and the imminent threat that would follow from its negligence. Not only on the local level (e.g. in the way our Prime Minister presented the referendum as a decision between the Euro and the return to our national currency ), but also –and most importantly- on the global one and especially regarding those critical voices calling us to revive left forms of thought and resistance. In the face of the historical moments we are living in, a significant part of the left intelligentsia is not calling “us” to act in order to realize the potentials of its political vision but merely in order to sustain it -though an incessant renewal- as a political potentiality, placing us under the gun of the apocalyptic disasters that would emerge from it’s possible (seriously possible) dissolution. But this call for reinvention confesses an ignorance regarding the (Leninist) question of “what is do be done.” For we are openly told that the left must act at all costs, even if it does not know what to do:
Today we do not know what we have to do, but we have to act now, because the consequence of non-action could be disastrous. (Zizek, “A permanent economic urgency,” The New Left Review, 64, 2010: 95) (2)
Though the meaning of Zizek’s phrase wants to be “we must act, even if we do not know what to do,” it allows for a fully legitimate misreading: “We must act. What do we have to do? We don’t know.” But why is inaction a priori ruled out as a possibility? What would happen if we did not act?
[to be continued…]
(1) “Une chose est déterminante: que le marxisme ait contribué et contribue toujours à l’appauvrissement de l’imagination politique, tel est notre point de départ.” Michel Foucault, «Méthodologie pour la connaissance du monde: comment se débarrasser du Marxisme», in Dits et Écrits, v. II, p. 599
(2) Alain Badiou addresses a similar ‘concern’ in a recent article: “But if we allow it [viz. the word “communism”] to disappear, we surrender to the supporters of order, to the febrile actors in the disaster movie.” (Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, Verso, London-New York, 2010: 100)