fresh hot Slavoj

Thu Apr 13 10:29:36 PDT 2000

I am a boring, flatheaded type of person who finds this sort of chat irritating, not because it talks about "Marx's fundamental mistake"--he made lots of themm--but because it beats around the bush. far as I can see, Z is saying that Marx was wrong to think of communism as a society of abundance where scarcity is overcome (I agree); that it canot be transparent (I agree), and that we should give up the idea that communism can do better than capitalism in terms of material welfare.

G.A. Cohen has argued this, saying that the benefits of communism are moral and spiritual; and Mises said this back in 1920 (as an objection to socialism), but it is disturbing.

Jim Heartfield would rail against the asceticism of the petty bourgeois being imposed on the workers, but there is a different concern: if you tell the workers that communism will not make them richer, they will be even less likely than they are now to support a move in that direction. Also, there is the objection that we may not be able to keep the spiritual and moral benefits without a level of productivity that is at least as high as what we now have, because the system would be unstable and rejected or defeated by a more productive capitalist part of the world.

I think talking about these problem in plain language would be useful. Maybe Z does so elsewhere in the book. I hope so. We don't need more philosophical twaddle.

jks (a reformed philosopher)

In a message dated Thu, 13 Apr 2000 12:19:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> writes:

> [Two excerpts from Slavoj Zizek's The Fragile Absolute, advance
> Marx's fundamental mistake was to conclude, from these insights, that
> a new, higher social order (Communism) is possible, an order that
> would not only maintain but even raise to a higher degree, and
> effectively fully release, the potential of the self-increasing
> spiral of productivity which in capitalism,

. . Capitalism and Communism are not two different
> historical realizations, two species, of 'instrumental reason'-
> instrumental reason as such is capitalist, grounded in capitalist
> relations; and 'actually existing Socialism' failed because it was
> ultimately a subspecies of capitalism, an ideological attempt to
> 'have one's cake and eat it' to break out of capitalism while
> retaining its key ingredient.
> Our answer to the standard philosophical criticism of Marx (his
> description of the dynamics of capitalism should be rejected, since
> it is meaningful only against the background of the notion of
> Communism as the self-transparent society in which the production
> process 'Is directly subordinated to the 'general intellect' of
> collective planning) is thus that while one accepts the kernel of
> this argument, one has simply to take a reflexive step back and
> perceive how Marx's notion of Communist society is itself the
> inherent capitalist fantasy a fantasmatic scenario for resolving the
> capitalist antagonism he so aptly described. In other words, our
> premiss is that even if we remove the teleological notion of
> Communism (the society of completely unbridled productivity) as the
> implicit standard by which Marx, as it were, measures the alienation
> of existing society, the bulk of his 'critique of political economy',
> his insight into the self-propelling vicious cycle of capitalist
> (re)production, survives.

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