Source: Yellow Vests of California

Marxism: Enlightenment’s Specter

Yellow Vests, Philosophers, Systems…

What tends perhaps to disappear in the political world that is shaping up, and perhaps in a new age of democracy, is the domination of this form of organization called the party, the party-State relation, which finally will have lasted, strictly speaking, only two centuries, barely longer than that, a period to which belongs as well certain determined types of parliamentary and liberal democracy, constitutional monarchies, Nazi, fascist, or Soviet totalitarianisms. …Now, as one can see foreshadowed, it seems, everywhere in the world today, the structure of the party is becoming not only more and more suspect… but also radically unadapted to the new — tele-techno-media — conditions of public space, of political life, of democracy, and of the new modes of representation (both parliamentary and non-parliamentary) that they call up…A movement is underway that we would be tempted to describe as a deconstruction of the traditional concepts of State, and thus of party and labor union.(Derrida, Specters of Marx, 1994)
Source: Screenshot from AdxaZz. (2018, December 2) Video file.

According to Infoshop News, the “Yellow Vests Movement Rocks France”, supported by 55% of the population, addresses major popular grievances. At first sight, they look quite “revolutionary”, conjuring up the ghosts of the French Revolution by raising the Tricolore banner, singing the Marseillaise, and donning a new revolutionary uniform, the yellow vest. Demands made by the Yellow Vests started with ending the tax hike on fuel but includes now a comprehensive program. Details here at Infoshop News, with plenty of links and commentary.

Not surprising that Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian professor, also known as the world’s hippest philosopher, engages ostentatiously in the current debate about the Yellow Vests. Indeed, when reading Derrida’s “ghostly” story, it reminded me immediately of Žižek as an incarnation of a Marxian ghost. In the video clip from RT (2018, December 29) below there are some indications. Here are some of the things he said that made me wonder. For example,

They signal [the Yellow Vests] that we are approaching a deadlock. No one really knows what will happen, starting with the government.
The solution is not just to change the system a little bit so that these demands will be met — these demands cannot be met. We have to change the entire system…

System? I’m perking my ears. So he is alluding to a socialist system that he readily admits to at the end of the clip when he says “My formula is — I’m not kidding — bureaucratic socialism.” Don’t we know about the failures of socialist systems? Quite often they are more capitalist than they would admit. They can be successful, see the Nordic states or China for example. It all depends on the economy. Socialist systems are only stable if they have the financial resources and excellent management. On the other end, capitalist systems, in particular empires, that run out of resources or political muscle, are just as prone to collapse.

In collapsing capitalist countries people call for socialism, in collapsing socialist countries everyone screams for capitalism; a never-ending treadmill running in a loop between systems but in the end, never satisfying the needs of the general population, only always benefit a few. As Todd May put it aptly, “If twentieth-century experiments with socialism have taught us anything, it is that changes of power at the top do not bring social transformation” (May,1994).

Žižek the Marxist is trapped in a “modernist” conceptual framework when he says,

But what can happen- Let’s imagine a totally crazy scenario that somehow, through some coalition, a new party or what-Protesters basically come to power. Within the existing system this would have meant probably crisis, Economic chaos and so on, and so on. And here, I think, we see what is needed. We have a clash between impossible demands and what the existing system can offer. The solution is not just to change the system a little bit so that these demands will be -met These demands cannot be met. “We have to change gradually the entire system” — Our entire, not only transport, but way of life. So that most of these demands would not longer even be meaningful.
Jean-François Lyotard. Source: Wikipedia

Here it appears that he may be thinking beyond the “system”. But the term “system” itself is loaded. In a postmodern context “system” reeks of traditional “big stories” or metanarratives (Lyotard, 1993) as the postmodern philosopher, Jean-Francois Lyotard had called them. Metanarratives are all-encompassing abstract systems of thought, such as Marxism, Liberalism, Freudianism, Scientism or even religious beliefs that promise “grand” solutions, if not salvation from the miseries of human existence, without ever fulfilling them.

This question takes us back to Jacques Derrida, another famous postmodern philosopher. So considering his quote again from the top of this page, where he said,

Now, as one can see foreshadowed, it seems, everywhere in the world today, the structure of the party is becoming not only more and more suspect… but also radically unadapted to the new — tele-techno-media — conditions of public space, of political life, of democracy, and of the new modes of representation (both parliamentary and non-parliamentary) that they call up.
Jacques Derrida. Source: Wikipedia

one can see that his approach is radically different from Žižek’s. He is looking towards a political future that is beyond party politics and even beyond nation-states. In 1994, when his book, Specters of Marx (Derrida, 2006/1994), was published he already saw the imminent role of the new technologies, that he called tele-techno-media, envisaging a technologically connected world that would change the planet. This world presents unique problems that never have been encountered, but also offers new solutions.

Today’s complex structures in societies are characterised by high mobility towards living in huge cities, extensive communication through social media, while simultaneously we find a growing economical disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots”. Such disparities lead to anger and frustration, as we can see in the Yellow Vest movement, just like we saw in the “Black Lives Matter” or “Occupy Wall Street movement”. People are furious, they know why, and they know how to revolt! Or, as former situationist Raoul Vaneigem (2018) put it,

This isn’t a national problem; it’s an international one. I don’t know what the face of France is, or if France has a face, but the reality that reclaims [recouvre] this fictional representation is that of men and women who are exploited at will, millions of people who are totally indentured to a totalitarian democracy that treats them like commodities.

What to do? Events like these harbour opportunities as well as dangers. What often happens is that an “attractor” will emerge in this complex system. The narrative is irrelevant; the attractor can come from the right or the left or can opportunistically pretend to be right or left. The attractor can be a person or a group and emerge from some specific event. Think of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 in Munich. By building up strong support eventually this person or group will be strong enough to take over political power, based on a perceived existential threat in the population that is looking for a “Führer”.

Today the outcome of such structural dynamics like in France is entirely unpredictable (Infoshop Staff, 2019) as it was in 1923 because the historical situation is never the same. There is no “metanarrative” that can come to the rescue in form of a “system.” Therefore it is exceedingly difficult to predict where movements like the Yellow Vest will be going. The behaviour of the masses is unpredictable as well as the response of the current government. We can only hope it will lead to new and creative solutions and at least some of their legitimate demands will be met by whoever will be in power.


Transcript: Slavoj Žižek on Yellow Vests:

They signal that we are approaching a deadlock.
No one really knows what will happen, starting with the government.
The solution is not just to change the system a little bit so that these demands will be met -
these demands cannot be met. We have to change the entire system,
“How to watch the news with Slavoj Žižek”
The first thing to note is the contradictory nature of the demands of the protesters.
They want better care for ecology
but typical, their first demand was lower taxes on gasoline, on fuel for cars.
ONE TAX TOO MANY TO INFLAME PEOPLE
They want lower taxes on their income but
PREVENT STATE FROM TAKING MORE THAN 25% OF THE INCOME 
they want better healthcare and so on and so on.
INCREASE MINIMUM WAGE, PENSIONS, AND SOCIAL BENEFITS
So it’s a typical populist demand.
It’s probably an authentic outrage, fury.
But literally, quite literally 
THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT
Their demands are literally impossible to meet.
Impossible at least within the existing system.
And that’s why I think these protests are so important.
Because we have in them a confrontation of popular unrest, dissatisfaction with, we can say, — many people think this — the existing system at its best.
Macron is maybe the best today’s establishment can offer:
A good banker, a good technocrat,
MACRON GET LOST
At the same time with certain social democratic sensitivities and so on, and so on.
MACRON, RESIGN. YELLOW VESTS WILL WIN
REINSTALL THE WEALTH TAX
It’s clear that Macron met his limitations.
MACRON GET LOST
But what can happen- Let’s imagine a totally crazy scenario
that somehow, through some coalition, a new party or what-
Protesters basically come to power.
Within the existing system, this would have meant probably crisis,
Economic chaos and so on, and so on.
And here, I think, we see what is needed.
We have a clash between impossible demands and what the existing system can offer.
The solution is not just to change the system a little bit so that these demands will be -met
These demands cannot be met.
WE HAVE TO CHANGE GRADUALLY THE ENTIRE SYSTEM
Our entire, not only transport, but way of life.
So that most of these demands would not longer even be meaningful.
You know what I was thinking here.
I read somewhere, that Henry Ford, we invented the mass production of cars,
When they asked him how were you able to offer the people what they wanted.
And he said something intelligent.
He said: “Listen, people when I started, didn’t want the car. If you were to ask ordinary people would do they want they would have said, “We want a stronger horse which eats less, or whatever”.
No, you have to offer them something that they don’t even know that it may serve them.
This is why these protests, these “Yellow Vests” are important.
Because they signal that we are approaching a deadlock.
The system is reaching its limit.
and what is needed is neither populism, which works only short-term,
nor better technocracy, which works within the existing system.
WE NEED CREATIVE POLITICIANS WHO WOULD PRESENT A NEW VISION
 to radically change things.”
It’s horrible to say — but I think 
WE NEED AN ENLIGHTENED LEADERSHIP
I’m not afraid to say this.
I don’t believe in immediate democracy.
I will say… I will go even a step further to provoke people.
I don’t believe in what is fashionable within many leftists, what they call
“non-representative direct democracy.”
My formula is — I’m not kidding — bureaucratic socialism.
The society I would like to live in is a society were state bureaucracy or some kind of, whatever, public bureaucracy, somehow organises basic things in the way which is impenetrable to me.
Somehow water comes, electricity comes, there is healthcare and so on.
I don’t have to know how all this works, I can live in my own niche.
I think that is the future, and we shouldn’t be afraid to put this as our motto.
Again, efficient bureaucracy and a level of alienation.


References

AdxaZz. (2018, December 2). DANS LA GUERRE DES GILETS AUX CHAMPS ÉLYSÉES [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euYtLs2LthQ

Derrida, J. (2006/1994). Specters of Marx: The state of the debt, the work of mourning and the new International. New York, NY: Routledge Classics

Infoshop Staff. (2018, December 9). Yellow Vests movement rocks France. 
Retrieved from http://news.infoshop.org/europe/yellow-vests-movement-rocks-france/

Infoshop Staff. (2019, January 10). Between the reaction and the referendum. Retrieved from http://news.infoshop.org/europe/between-the-reaction-and-the-referendum/

Le Nouveau Magazine littéraire. (2018, December 11).Concerning the “Yellow Vests”: Everything is possible, even self-managing assemblies in the middle of street intersections, villages and neighborhoods. An interview with Raoul Vaneigem. Retrieved from http://www.notbored.org/yellow-vests.pdf

Lyotard, J. (1993). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge (9. printing. ed.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

May, T. (1994). The political philosophy of poststructuralist anarchism. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press

RT.(2018, December 29). Slavoj Zizek on Yellow Vests. How to watch the news, Episode 01 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrdPchnAR60&t=69s

Yellow Vests of California [CA_YelllowVests].(2018, December 9). This is a fully translated “Charter of the Yellow Vests” from French to English. Do any of these points resonate with you Americans? Californians?
#YellowVestProtests #YellowJackets #yellowvests #WeThePeople #QAnon #GreatAwakening #UFC231 #SeduceMeIn4Words #MinimizeASong #Grammys[Tweet].Retrieved from
https://twitter.com/CA_YelllowVests/status/1071566985710907393