[lbo-talk] Shoplifters of the world, unite

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Mon Aug 22 10:21:24 PDT 2011

Doug wrote:

> And while I know that a lot of people have some bones to pick with Jodi
> about the talk, that organization question - unions, parties, whatever, some
> kind of institution that lasts beyond the moment and can unite people in
> some common work towards common goals - is the big one.

My take as well. I don't think Jodi Dean's basic train of thought is particularly misguided at this point in time. So, on the contrary, emphasizing the need for a political instrument is exactly the right thing to do at this stage. She's a bit thin on how that process is supposed to work out, if you ask me, but the very fact that she's thinking about it and engaging others in that kind of thinking is to be encouraged. I don't know anything about her, but based on the video, she seems to come from a speculative philosophical tradition. Oh well, we all come from somewhere. In any case, at this point, we should be trying to take her idea away and flesh it out.

> I've been annoyed by the reaction to Zizek's article on the London riots, a
> defense of spontaneism. One character on Facebook - where half the world's
> political discourse now sees to reside - couldn't get past the fact that "Zizek
> called black people rabble." That itself is a fine example of how the racial
> paradigm can drive an analysis off the road.

I followed James and Richard's discussion with attention. I was hoping for some sort of synthesis, because although Richard's points are overall correct, James does make points that need to be incorporated into the analysis. At this point in our political development (said with due reserve, since I know nothing about the conditions on the ground in London), it seems to make sense to emphasize the agitational aspect of the riots -- "Look, that is the kind of reaction that the bloody capitalist crisis, and the way the UK government is handling it, was breeding. We need to see beyond capitalism." And here, Richard's work has been fantastic.

On the other hand, we have to switch from reacting-to-capitalism to organizing-our-own-thing, and the emphasis shifts as a result. Here, James has a valid point: "As they were, the riots amount to a tremendous waste of energy that winds up backfiring, de-politicizing, and de-moralizing people. We need to learn from them and organize all that energy in ways that make us go forward, not backwards." I think James didn't frame things the right way. He seemed too quick to condemn the rioters without pointing the finger to the social conditions that generate them. But, again, we often pull the stick a bit too far in one direction or another.

IMO, Zizek's calling the rioters "rabble" is over the top. Why? Because he's not representing an active mass movement in the UK being dragged backwards by the riots. In that case, I would understand. He's reacting to it as a witness from afar. Marx and Engels were pretty harsh with the lumpenproletariat, but their practical concern was that these spontaneous (and sometimes not so spontaneous, but deliberate acts of sabotage) actions were used to undermine the legit and better organized political initiatives of working people. So, they were often strong advocates of administering stern proletarian discipline on the "rabble" -- e.g. during the Paris Commune. But context matters. So, basically, I'm with Richard on this controversy.

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