Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Zizek is NOT the vanguard in Egypt

Typical of liberal intellectuals, Zizek thinks that the great historic events such as the revolution in Egypt are cultural events, sparked by great ideas, in particular the ones that he himself propagates, or that other historic figures embody in their exceptional capacity to 'seize the time' and lead the masses to liberation.

This is a variation on the petty bourgeois infatuation with great leaders sucking up the will of the masses and projecting it like a halo. But great historical events like revolutions are not the acts of superior individuals, reducing the masses to mere amplifiers. Great historical events are enactments of the masses mobilised behind great ideas, yes, but ideas that express their urgently felt needs such as liberty, equality, fraternity, the call signs of the French Revolution, or land, bread and peace the famous rallying cries of the Russian Revolution in 1917.

But the call signs of the bourgeoisie are far from universal. Liberty, equality, fraternity, became the property of the bourgeoisie and was denied to all others. Napoleon notoriously reversed his emancipation of the Haitian slaves. The material conditions for the realisation of these ideas do not exist in capitalist society. One class exploits another and so renders it unfree. So while liberal intellectuals see themselves are the carriers of these noble principles they cannot change the material conditions sufficient to realise them.

The Bolsheviks succeeded in revolutionising these social conditions by overthrowing both the Tsarist aristocracy and the weak bourgeosie that were barriers to change, and making a socialist revolution. For the first time in history the promise of the French Revolution was fulfilled universally, if briefly, in the Soviet Union. But this did not happen as Zizek thinks because the genius Lenin was able to momentarily substitute for the working class and 'seize the time'.

Lenin was not an isolated intellectual but a leader of a revolutionary Marxist party that built its program for Russia on the lessons of all previous victories and defeats of the working class right back to the Paris Commune of 1871. The ideas were drawn from those lessons, but they were not capable of magically transforming the material reality. They could only operate in conditions where the working class could actively intervene to transform the social relations.

These conditions arose out of the crisis of capitalism during the First World War, and the suffering of the masses of Russia at war with Germany. The only class that could rescue the universal promise of the French Revolution and make this real for all, was the starving working class. Because it was workers who produced the main wealth, its alone was the universal class with the capacity to lead the poor peasant producers, to fulfill the bourgeois revolution as a socialist revolution that would open the way to a classless society.

In Egypt, the realisation of the principles of the French revolution - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity - cannot be won unless the working class driven by the need for Liberty, Bread and Land, becomes conscious of its role as the universal class and leads a popular revolution that takes power and socialises capitalist property. For this to happen, the working class has to grasp its historic mission and overthrow not only both US imperialism and its Israel outpost, but also the Egyptian bourgeoisie. It does not need 'great men' or 'great women' who stand above the crowd acting out its 'will', it needs to form councils and militias united in a democratic commune, and elect leaders with the task of taking the revolution to victory, in the same way that the Bolsheviks were elected by the majority of the workers to lead the Russian revolution to victory.
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