Professor Kliman’s “Radical” Critique of David Graeber and the Occupy Movement
Or, why Zizek believed, ‘We must not succumb to the temptation to act’
Between Kliman’s critique of the Occupy movement, Ollman’s critique of Marx on working class consciousness and Zizek’s critique of Negri, I notice something of a pattern. Ollman in his piece, which I examined in my last blog, argues “between determining conditions and determined response is the class consciousness of the actors”. Action without this class consciousness is insufficient to accomplish the revolutionary project.
Similarly, in his 2001 critique of Negri, Zizek warns us not to yield to the temptation to act without questioning the hegemonic ideological coordinates because, as he argues,
“If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space”.
The space within which we act is dominated by the “liberal-parliamentary consensus” where the only rule is “say and write whatever you want-on condition that what you do does not effectively question or disturb the predominant political consensus.” To act against existing social relations without calling into question the political expression of these social relations is not sufficient.
Zizek makes a point with which it is hard to raise an objection: democratic politics is by its very nature always ready to listen to and accommodate the political demands of the working class, thus depriving them of their proper political sting. Liberal parliamentary democracy is willing to accommodate even a demand for its own abolition as a discrete political position within itself. Capital as a totalizing social process must, of course, include even the possibility of its own abolition as a part of this process. Zizek makes the quite convincing argument that between our experiences and our action we must insert critical thought that questions the limits of the liberal parliamentary consensus. Zizek demands a “serious attempt to imagine a society whose sociopolitical order would be different.” It is this imagining which should precede our actions within a space dominated by the ideological hegemony of liberal democracy. This, Zizek argues, is the failure of Negri’s analysis in Empire.
But, Zizek fails to explain why an attempt by society to imagine itself in a form that does not as yet exist would be an improvement. Against Negri’s demands that “fluctuate between formal emptiness and impossible radicalization” he proposes his own pre-Marx alternative: A radical slogan that is both empty and impossible:
The first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to directly intervene and change things…
Zizek is not shy about this demand. He fully admits this statement reverses Marx’s Theses — privileging thought over action. Unlike Ollman, who does the same (yet blames Marx for it), Zizek has the strength of character not to accuse Marx of inconsistency. He simply accuses Marx of being an anachronism, by quoting Lenin:
About this, Marx and Engels said not a word.
Which is to say, up until 1914 the whole of human history was essentially practical critical activity of society but no longer. With the “politico-ideological collapse of the long era of progressism in the catastrophe of 1914” Lenin stepped forward to reinvent history. That, for Lenin, this reinvention does not appear as a reinvention but a restatement of Marx’s Theses, doesn’t appear to concern Zizek. And this is the question posed by Zizek inadvertently: Was Lenin’s ideas a “restatement” of Marx’s Theses — as Lenin himself believed — or a “reinvention”?
If we could channel Lenin’s ghost to pose this question, he would no doubt respond:
Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity.” —Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (1902),
Clearly Lenin sides with Ollman and Zizek against those who act without the aid of a critical analysis of the limits set by liberal democratic politics. By contrast I have yet to find a single quote in Marx where he stated: “You have to understand my theory to make revolution.” If Zizek, Ollman or any other member in good standing within the Marxist Academy knows of such a citation I would be glad to read it — until then, kindly take your fucking critical theory and shove it up your ass.
Perhaps no one is better equipped to undertake this empty and impossible “radical” task than our Professor Andrew Kliman, who, in his recent critique of David Graeber, confirmed his reputation for what one tweep called “tedious sectarianism”. I have to confess I really tried to understand Kliman’s point on “prefigurative politics”, but failed miserably.
In the proper sense of the term, “prefigurative politics” refers to practices that foreshadow and anticipate a different world a world that does not exist.
However, according to Kliman, Graeber’s prefigurative act,
… refers to practices that make believe that this different world already exists in embryo within the existing one.
Let’s parse this stupidity.
In Kliman’s sense of this term, we are imagining or acting on ideas having no concrete material reality, while, according to the professor, Graeber’s argument at least has the validity of acting on something he believes does exist, however embryonic this existence. Professor Kliman prefers to “foreshadow” the non-existent, and derides Graeber for asserting the thing foreshadowed in action already exists in embryo. The thing said to exist only in imagination in Kliman’s sense, but actually already present in embryo in Graeber’s sense is “freedom”. And, on this point, Kliman appears to have scored points against Graeber: In the first place, we are no more “free” than the African slave. In the second place we are not free in relation to the circumstances within which we act, which are historically given. In either case, pretence to freedom is a fallacy that can only result in catastrophe.
It is on these grounds Kliman concludes,
The Zuccotti Park occupation was a dismal failure. The functioning of Wall Street was not disrupted. Occupy Wall Street never occupied Wall Street. Even Zuccotti Park was “occupied” only with the consent of the mayor of New York City, and it was cleared out the moment he withdrew that consent. In the end, no autonomous space was reclaimed. The effort to remake society by multiplying and weaving together autonomous spaces is back to Square One. Even worse, precious little progress was made during the occupation in articulating and working out what the movement is for, or how to solve the serious social and economic problems we now confront.
He blames this failure, not on the occupiers themselves, but on the “leadership” of the occupation. Blaming the failure on the occupiers, would, of course, treat them as adult men and women capable of making their own decisions including who they look to as their leadership. However, in the Marxist paradigm, they are not adult men and women making their own decision, they are hopelessly retarded children who must be led by a self-annointed vanguard sufficiently theoretically developed to uncover the path mankind must take to freedom. Every other ruling class has succeeded to power through its own actions, but proles are imbeciles incapable of discovering their own wants.
The point to be made here is not whether Graeber is wrong, but that the occupiers must be wrong to have chosen him as their leader and suffered a defeat as a result. Ultimately, the failure of the Occupy belongs to them, not Graeber; despite Kliman’s weak ass attempts to separate the two. Kliman’s argument comes down to this: the proles pretended they were already free in embryo, and appointed Graeber to express this delusion. Since we must operate with the assumption that proles are not retarded children incapable of making their own decisions, this is where the blame lies. Kliman is being disingenuous when he tries to ascribe the “failure” of the Occupy movement to Graeber. If, as Kliman argues, the Occupy has failed, it is the fault of the occupiers, and Kliman should “man up” and tell them so. His attempt to lay the blame on Graeber is bullshit and Kliman knows this.
If we try to scale up Kliman’s argument to explain other historical failures of working class political activity, we would be trying to explain Auschwitz in terms of the failure of German Marxists. Kliman treats failure as some personal moral deficit, when in fact the political action of the proletariat is always supposed to fail. Even the most successful union negotiation is all about the terms and conditions of the enslavement of the workers. The fucking fallacy in the negotiation is that the workers approach it as if they are free to negotiate the terms and conditions of their enslavement. In fact, they are not free; they are slaves. Even when they win, they remain slaves. Even when they impose their will on the capitalist, they remain his willing slaves. On the basis of Kliman’s “radical” critique of our unfreedom, the workers should not even enter negotiations. Every political action rests on this fallacy, not just the Occupy — and it does not take an overt defeat of the class to be an essential defeat. In the same Graeberian sense that Occupy acts as if they are free, every fucking union acts as if it is free.
So what the fuck of it? Should the proletariat now stop fucking acting as if they are free because fucking Kliman doesn’t approve of the logical fallacy of this position?
I am trying to imagine Kliman writing “Class Struggle in France”, or “Civil War in France” — I just don’t see it. All we would be able to glean from his argument is that the communards were imbeciles for following the Prudhonists. The Commune ended in catastrophic defeat after barely 60 fucking days and got a lot of people killed — in the end the association had to submit to the state.
Overlooked in this “history” is the fact that the Commune, even led by the Prudhonists, demonstrated a new form of social organization of society. The Communards acted as they should have acted: not imagining a new social organization of society in theory, but creating it in practice. And they could create this new social organization of society, not because they had already perfected it on paper, but, as Marx observed, they were already this new social organization of society themselves.
So, yes. In the Graeberian sense of prefigure, Occupy was already “free” of the class divisions of society, not because they could abolish the other classes in society by fiat, but because they already are a class that is no longer a class in any meaningful sense of that terms.
What Kliman, Zizek, Ollman and the rest of the academy seem to be unable to get through their thick skulls is that all politics is bourgeois. The working class is in itself already constituted as the new society, it does not need politics no matter how illuminated by theory. If Marx had never written a damn word, this class would still make its revolution, because, as Marx stated: this is what the Proletariat is. It is not revolutionary because Marx said it is, Marx said it was revolutionary because it already was.
You fucking Marxists need to take your goddamned books and burn them all.
Darwin did not invent the laws of evolution. Einstein did not create the laws of the physical universe. And Marx did not create the laws of the social revolution. Proletarians do not need to ask permission from Kliman, Ollman, Zizek, or the rest of the fucking Marxist Academy to act.
So, FUCK YOU, Professor Kliman! And fuck Zizek too. Fuck you all and the fucking horse you rode in on.