Žižek: we’re all proletarians now
Slavoj Žižek has been considering the principal antagonisms within contemporary capitalism that might resuscitate the notion of communism.
In the latest New Left Review (57: 2009) he identifies four possible antagonisms that he thinks strong enough to prevent capitalism’s infinite reproduction. They are the threat of ecological catastrophe; the privatisation of culture, communication and education; the question of new techno-scientific developments that affect our biogenetic inheritance; and lastly the new forms of social apartheid. The first three, Žižek suggests are ‘the shared substance of our social being, whose privatisation is a violent act which should be resisted by force, if necessary’. Drawing upon Hardt and Negri, Žižek refers to these three antagonisms collectively as the ‘commons’ – the commons of culture, the commons of our external nature, the commons of our internal nature.
In a passage that must surely resonate with English dissenters and radicals, Žižek, suggests: ‘What all of these struggles share is an awareness of the destructive potential – up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself – in allowing the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons a free run.’
But it is the fourth antagonism – social apartheid – that Žižek argues is crucial. For it brings into focus the question of the included and excluded without which the others lose their subversive edge. He writes:
Ecology turns into a problem of sustainable development, intellectual property into a complex legal challenge, biogenetics into an ethical issue. One can sincerely fight for the environment, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, oppose the copyrighting of genes, without confronting the antagonism between the included and the excluded. Even more, one can formulate some of these struggles in terms of the included threatened by the polluting excluded. In this way, we get no true universality, only ‘private’ concerns in the Kantian sense.
A new emancipatory politics, Žižek argues will be ‘an explosive combination of different agents’, united by the danger that they will be dispossessed of all symbolic content, genetically manipulated, vegetating in an unliveable environment. This triple threat, he suggests, makes us all proletarians.