Sunday, October 30, 2011

Talk at St. Mark's Bookstore

Maoists in India

“Red train to Gurgaon,” by Saroj Giri

Rahul Pandita’s eyewitness chronicle of the Maoist movement and its affected lives is both sensitive and careful, finds Saroj Giri

HOW DOES one cut through the State and media’s dominant depictions of ‘marginal’ events and present a convincing story to a sceptical audience? One way seems to be to provide something incontrovertible — like an eyewitness account, something the writer has directly experienced, heard or felt. Take the recent writings on the Maoist movement wanting to tell the ‘real’ story, the ‘untold’ story. They bring us direct accounts of walks and journeys, travels and conversations in the Red zone — a jangalnama.

Rahul Pandita’s choice of title for his new book adds a familiarity to this directness: Hello, Bastar. The book presents his travels in the Maoist heartland and brings out both the movement’s history and the actors involved. Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy recommends the book for its authenticity and reliability. The presentation is not lyrical but not dryly factual either — it carefully lays out the oral history that circulates and nourishes the movement.

Pandita achieves a sensitive and humane account of the real lives of the people in the Maoist movement by cutting through not just State and media propaganda but also through Maoist ideology. There is a palpable unease about the political ideology these people supposedly believe in. Apparently, Maoist practice in its immediacy and local context is adorable. But ‘communism’ is, we are told, an irreparable problem — made clear in Arundhati Roy’s writings.

Pandita also sketches a touching account of Anuradha Ghandy, Maoist leader and Kobad’s wife. Coming from a well-off family, “Anuradha wouldn’t shy away from hardships; she did everything that other guerrillas would do.” In Nagpur, she lived and worked in Dalit bastis. Bicycling for political work around the city, she was known for her sensitivity and concern.

ARE ANURADHA’s Maoism and her justice-loving self irreconcilable? Isn’t trying to discover the ‘real’ person — unmediated by ‘ideology’ — part of a depoliticisation? Is ideology that pernicious?

Pandita narrates: “They might learn big words like comprador, bourgeoisie or imperialism, but the motto for an ordinary cadre is: datt kar khao, datt kar chalo (eat as much as you can, walk as much as you can).” Cleansed of these “big words”, the struggle gets construed as local and contingent — not what is usually understood as Revolution. Maoists are shown as fighting local violence and oppression by landlords and forest officers backed by the State. Their honesty and commitment melted Adivasi hearts. Little Tarakka and her family faced years of oppression by forest officers. Today, that is a thing of the past. She is now known not just as a Maoist rebel but also for her beauty.

Unease with political ideology and ease with the local and the directly experienced gives way in the last chapter, however, to hints of a broader generalisation — enacting a Giridih or a Bastar in Gurgaon. The imagination, dream and perhaps ‘ideology’ inspiring Ghandy’s humane acts and ‘big words’ start to silently underpin Pandita’s text. Let’s dream the urban agenda — Hello, striking workers!

Giri teaches political science at Delhi University

Saroj Giri: “Where are the popular classes?”

In Venezuela, when the right-wing upper middle classes attack the progressive government, the popular classes come out in militant defence. Why is this not the case in India?

By Saroj Giri

The ongoing anti-corruption movement is dominated by social-network yuppies, YFE kind of rightist caste-supremacist anti-reservationists and Muslim-haters, Ramdev-Ravishankar followers, people who don’t vote and want Modi’s rule. Right or wrong? Right. It has touched a deep chord with vast sections of the popular classes. Right or wrong? Right.

The thing is, unlike Left intellectuals, popular classes do not as it were check the (right-wing) credentials of a person or movement before joining it – ‘joining’ here is not ‘an intellectual decision’, a choice. So rejecting the movement by reading the CV of its leaders or checking its formal declarations and credentials, can amount to a sterile radical posturing. Don’t give up on the popular classes just because they are today running behind Anna Hazare – for if anything it is not your denunciations of the right-wing, but precisely these classes that can possibly prove the right-wing’s undoing. And news is, India’s democracy and Parliament are not the allies of the popular classes – at least not when the latter are out in the streets and are feeling political.

News is also that the government’s social justice does not inspire the popular classes to now come to its defence and confront the selfish, authoritarian upper middle classes. I was imagining a vast militant rally of Dalits, Muslims, adivasis and the working classes in defence of ‘India’s democracy’. Or maybe something like the suspension of Operation Green Hunt and a historic alliance of the government with the Maoists and all those on the left, a popular front against the right-wing upper middle class onslaught! Or is it that instead the government will ultimately reconcile with the so-called right-wing middle class mobilization – which only means so much of affective energy and agonizing over the government-Hazare conflict is contrived. There is a lot of inter-elite shadow boxing happening – so there are no sides to be taken here and the only intervention can be one of retrieving the political agency of the popular classes.

Coming back: so yes, the anti-corruption movement definitely has an upper middle class right wing core, with a cross between a Modi and a Lee Kuan Yew as inspiration. Yet, call it the constraints of seeking hegemony, this movement is nothing without the participation of the popular classes – without the involvement of the popular classes, the dabahwalas and autowallahs, the legitimacy of this movement would drastically shrink. The RSS might be mobilizing for this movement but this is an anti-corruption movement and not a movement for Ram temple. There is always a gap beyond the control of RSS functionaries. These are the constraints of what is called ‘hegemonic politics’. Team Anna has to and does speak, for their own good, in the name of the nation – and the nation includes (thankfully!) classes that might prove dangerous for any right-wing agenda (and for a left-wing agenda too if ‘the right’ successfully mobilizes).

What is clear today is that the popular classes are not with the Parliament and its democracy. The way to fight the so-called authoritarianism of the middle classes is therefore not to defend the rotten Parliament and democracy but to increase the assertion of the popular classes beyond Team Anna.


Some Dalit leaders and left activists have rightly denounced the right wing core of this movement. However we must ask why it is that Dalits and other popular sections do not feel inspired to be proactive in defending social justice, defend the Parliament and Indian democracy. Thus here you have the most decisive indictment of Indian democracy and its progressive avatar – the basic orientation of these social policies for the poor and the marginalized were to contain them and their resistance in order to ease the passage of neoliberal policies. Instead of any real politicization of the popular classes, they at best led to interest groups and pro-state factions within deprived or marginalized communities – so that even social movements were so focused on getting this or that progressive social policy passed, as is the case today where the Left is supposed to back the best version of the Lok Pal Bill.

The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has an interesting way of not reducing the popular classes to mere recipients of benefits but of keeping them politicized, so that they have their own political subjectivity. Hence they fight right-wing upper middle class mobilizations, defending Chavez and the government often with great militancy.

In India, however, the popular classes have sensed that the Parliament and the political dispensation here (precisely in its democratic best) is more interested in democratic containment than any real ‘empowerment’ of the masses. Even if the democratic spaces provided by Parliament can be sometimes used to further develop the progressive movement, the government’s basic orientation is to favor a right-wing agenda. Moreover, Indian democracy has been opportunistic right since its inception in and around 1947. It can be shown for example that it was really to contain the demand for separate electorates that secularism for minorities and reservations for Depressed Classes were adopted. Today the proponents of Indian democracy talk about secularism and reservations as though they emanated from a singular and definitive commitment to these ‘values’. Similarly it is only to defuse the situation after the Telangana armed struggle that bhoodan (land redistribution) was carried out. More recently you have for example the Home Secretary saying that Forest Rights Act is necessary in order to contain the attraction adivasis have for the Maoists. So it is not entirely inexplicable that the popular classes rally behind the so-called authoritarian upper middle classes than defend the present Parliament and its democracy.


And yet, were the dangerous classes to assert themselves, the right-wing middle classes will most likely go over to gang up with the Parliament and the government – the default mode. They are extremely chummy on intensifying Operation Green Hunt, on the question of terror, privatization, relations with the US-Israel axis and so on. That is, both ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘democracy’ would be on the same side – no real divide between the two.

This shows that this divide cannot be sustained in any real sense. It is only when the dangerous classes lie low that the dominant classes enter into internal conflict and disagreements even though their fundamental class interests are the same. Thus, the so-called authoritarianism of the middle classes is merely a continuation of the authoritarianism of the Parliament and the ruling classes.

This is not to deny that there is a fight for now between authoritarianism and democracy. This fight is about the hawkish middle class telling the government to shed off the democratic garb and tone down mass politics and instead usher in ‘clean governance’, technocratic rule and fast growth. Thanks to Parliament and its democracy, the dangerous classes are internalized and included enough to no longer require reservations, rights, social justice, mass democratic politics and the like. How long will inclusive democracy, reservations and so on continue? If democracy and reservations continue beyond what is necessary to contain the poor and the marginalized, then they become part of corruption: vested interests, vote banks, appeasements and so on.

Social justice is equal to corruption. That is the equation the right-wing middle class is trying to establish. Hence the best way to fight the social justice and push the free market agenda is to say merely that you are against corruption. Those opposing NREGA are not going to tell you that they are against the poor or that they are against social justice. They need only self-righteously say that they are against corruption and that will do the trick. For, isn’t it established, the argument goes, that NREGA leads to corruption, vested interests, and ultimately to vote bank politics?

The crucial upshot: the poor can not only be deprived of the benefits of social justice policies but can also be mobilized for the same, all in the name of the apparently just cause of fighting corruption! So if the popular classes are so coopted, so internalized and included in democracy, then why bother with social justice and representative democracy and so on. Bring about Modi style rule all over the country with high growth, public amenities, and a happy people about to transform India into another Hong Kong or Singapore!


To recap:

Social justice is about democratic containment (by the Parliament and the government)

Anti-corruption is about technocratic containment (pushed by the right-wing forces).

Since technocratic containment is pushed in the name of a benign sounding anti-corruption movement, the popular classes get enrolled in this right-wing agenda.

The left response cannot be to choose ‘democracy’ (read democratic containment) over ‘authoritarianism’ (read technocratic containment) since they are really two sides of the same coin, just two modalities of rule. That is, there is a link and continuity between the Parliament, the authoritarian middle classes and the present version of the anti-corruption movement. The conflict within the dominant classes (the Anna Hazare versus government stand-off) is about the hawkish upper middle class trying to push the government to bite the bullet and usher in a full-fledged technocratic regime.

Lastly, imagine: the Maoists publicly announce that they are sending (and they actually can!) one lakh adivasis (ok unarmed) to Ram Lila Maidan to join the fight against corruption. What impact will this have? Will these new ‘participants’ simply dissolve and become part of the right-wing agenda or will their intervention radically change things? For the political impact to take place, the Maoists do not even need to actually send them: only give a call and see what follows. The point is to grab the initiative instead of counting our beads and getting depressed by the right-wing character of this movement. Clearly this means we are neither for this or that so-called best version of the Lok Pal Bill. The only way forward from the viewpoint of the popular classes is to take the anti-corruption movement in new directions (the CPIML Liberation has taken a step in this direction). Anti-corruption cannot be separated from the question of social transformation. Can we take this idea forward?

Oakland Strike / Day of Action

Below is the proposal passed by the Occupy Oakland General Assembly on Wednesday October 26, 2011 in reclaimed Oscar Grant Plaza. 1607 people voted. 1484 voted in favor of the resolution, 77 abstained and 46 voted against it, passing the proposal at 96.9%. The General Assembly operates on a modified consensus process that passes proposals with 90% in favor and with abstaining votes removed from the final count.


We as fellow occupiers of Oscar Grant Plaza propose that on Wednesday November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%.

We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school. Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.

All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.

While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.

The whole world is watching Oakland. Let’s show them what is possible.

The Strike Coordinating Council will begin meeting everyday at 5pm in Oscar Grant Plaza before the daily General Assembly at 7pm. All strike participants are invited. Stay tuned for much more information and see you next Wednesday.

Revolt Must Not Be Motivated by Consumerism

Friday, October 28, 2011

Democracy is the Enemy

Slavoj Žižek 28 October 2011

The protests on Wall Street and at St Paul’s Cathedral are similar, Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post, ‘in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions’. ‘Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square,’ she went on, ‘to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions.’

Once you have reduced the Tahrir Square protests to a call for Western-style democracy, as Applebaum does, of course it becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests with the events in Egypt: how can protesters in the West demand what they already have? What she blocks from view is the possibility of a general discontent with the global capitalist system which takes on different forms here or there.

‘Yet in one sense,’ she conceded, ‘the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians.’ She is forced to the conclusion that ‘globalisation has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.’ This is precisely what the protesters are drawing attention to: that global capitalism undermines democracy. The logical further conclusion is that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its current form, based on multi-party nation-states, which has proved incapable of managing the destructive consequences of economic life. Instead of making this step, however, Applebaum shifts the blame onto the protesters themselves for raising these issues:

‘Global’ activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout: ‘We need to have a process!’ Well, they already have a process: it’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

So, Applebaum’s argument appears to be that since the global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to manage it will accelerate the decline of democracy. What, then, are we supposed to do? Continue engaging, it seems, in a political system which, according to her own account, cannot do the job.

There is no shortage of anti-capitalist critique at the moment: we are awash with stories about the companies ruthlessly polluting our environment, the bankers raking in fat bonuses while their banks are saved by public money, the sweatshops where children work overtime making cheap clothes for high-street outlets. There is a catch, however. The assumption is that the fight against these excesses should take place in the familiar liberal-democratic frame. The (explicit or implied) goal is to democratise capitalism, to extend democratic control over the global economy, through the pressure of media exposure, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, police investigations etc. What goes unquestioned is the institutional framework of the bourgeois democratic state. This remains sacrosanct even in the most radical forms of ‘ethical anti-capitalism’ – the Porto Allegre forum, the Seattle movement and so on.

Here, Marx’s key insight remains as pertinent today as it ever was: the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere – i.e. in such things as free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, respect for human rights. Real freedom resides in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed in order to make improvements is not political reform, but a change in the social relations of production. We do not vote concerning who owns what, or about the relations between workers in a factory. Such things are left to processes outside the sphere of the political, and it is an illusion that one can change them by ‘extending’ democracy: say, by setting up ‘democratic’ banks under the people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of such democratic devices as legal rights etc. They have a positive role to play, of course, but it must be borne in mind that democratic mechanisms are part of a bourgeois-state apparatus that is designed to ensure the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. Badiou was right to say that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything of the kind, but democracy: it is the ‘democratic illusion’, the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as the only legitimate means of change, which prevents a genuine transformation in capitalist relations.

The Wall Street protests are just a beginning, but one has to begin this way, with a formal gesture of rejection which is more important than its positive content, for only such a gesture can open up the space for new content. So we should not be distracted by the question: ‘But what do you want?’ This is the question addressed by male authority to the hysterical woman: ‘All your whining and complaining – do you have any idea what you really want?’ In psychoanalytic terms, the protests are a hysterical outburst that provokes the master, undermining his authority, and the master’s question – ‘But what do you want?’ – disguises its subtext: ‘Answer me in my own terms or shut up!’ So far, the protesters have done well to avoid exposing themselves to the criticism that Lacan levelled at the students of 1968: ‘As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.’

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Strategy: The Importance of Silence

Please see the full entry at:


Žižek asserts the importance of silence:

What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on enemy's turf; time is needed to deploy the new content. All we say now can be taken from us—everything except our silence. This silence, this rejection of dialogue, of all forms of clinching, is our “terror”, ominous and threatening as it should be.

October 26, 2011 at St. Mark's Bookshop.


I will simply begin by certain historical observations. You probably notice how some people, and I think precisely the wrong people, started to celebrate the Wall Street events as a new form of social carnival: so nice, we have there this horizontal organization, no terror, we are free, egalitarian, everybody can say whatever he or she wants, and so on, all that stuff. It is as if some kind of a carnivalesque collective experience is returning. And this tendency, much more than here, is alive, as you can expect, on the West Coast. A couple of days ago at Stanford they told me that — the other Sunday, about 9 days ago — that in the center of San Francisco, a guy speaking on behalf of those who occupy, said something like, “They are asking you what’s your program. They don’t get it. We don’t have a program. We are here to enjoy ourselves. Have a nice collective experience,” and so on and so on. That’s precisely what I want to render problematic. How? You know, I would like to start with maybe a surprising point: the relationship between melancholy and prohibitions. The idea is the following one: modern subject paradigmatically is melancholic and the thing he is melancholic about, the lost object, is precisely collective, transgressive experience of carnival. For example, there is quite a nice a book from 2007 by Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets, where her thesis is that with modernity proper, not renaissance, what is lost is precisely this collective carnivalesque experience: we are no longer dancing in the streets, pleasure becomes a private thing, and so on and so on.

What I want to problematize is precisely the implicit causality, which is: first something was prohibited, or rendered inaccessible — collective dancing in the streets, whatever — and then we get melancholic. But I think it’s the opposite way around. I think that melancholy comes first and prohibition is a way to avoid the deadlock of melancholy.

(Melancholy & Mourning)

One has to be very precise here about the structure of melancholy. The usual, I call it in a friendly way, [?], Judith Butler reading is that melancholics are more radical, faithful than those who go through the work of mourning. The idea is that mourning, the Freudian [?], means to accept the loss of the object. You work to it symbolize the loss and you pass over to the real object. Why? A melancholic is not able to drop the object, remains faithful to the object. Those of you know Judith’s work on gender and so on: remember what’s her precise point. A kind of a tricky, ethical, strictly ethical, rehabilitation of both gay and lesbian homosexuality. The idea is that our first object of libidinal investment is the same sex parent. Why? The price for becoming normal heterosexual is that you identify with the lost object, and in this way you become the normative subject, like a woman identifies with mother’s feminity, a son with father’s masculinity. And in this way, you accept the loss because you yourself identify with the lost object and become normal. She delves into this in detail if you want, in her maybe best book, I claim, The Psychic Life of Power. And then the idea is that gay people are a little bit more ethical here. They don’t accept the loss of the, as it were, primordial object.

Okay, I see here many problems. The first one is, you know that Butler’s basic theory of gender is that gender is nothing natural, our gender identities are constructed through performative practices, re-enactments, so on and so on. My first very naive question here is: if this is true, how then can the child identify with the same sex parent prior to any performative identification and so on? It’s as if the child nonetheless experiences sexual difference, father, mother before... okay it’s another one.

What I want to say is that I want to problematize the underlining notion of melancholy. I think a good old-fashioned return to Freud, which has political bearing today, is very helpful here. Namely if you read closely Freud in his Mourning and Melancholy, he says something almost exactly opposite. His point is not melancholic subject more remains faithful to the object — no no no. He says something wonderful: he says that melancholy is something like mourning in advance. A melancholic treats the object of libidinal investment as lost while the object is still here.

And I can give you — I mean there are nice examples. For example, from literature: the couple of Countess Olenska and Newland in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Why is the couple’s relationship basically melancholic? Because in a very nice way it is rendered this paradox of melancholy: while they’re still together, they treat each other as if the loss, you know, the shadow of future loss is already here part of the relationship. How does this mourning in advance — mourning of an object which is still here — work? We come here to the crucial distinction established by Lacan between object of desire — what you desire — and object cause of desire — that what makes you desire an object.

I think you can retract in a very precise way: his point is that what happens in melancholia is not that you lose the object; you have the object but you lose the desire for the object: you lose the object cause of desire. Everything is here, you lose the desire for it. So the true lost object in melancholy is this desire, and I think this explains very nicely a subtle paradox, since we are here in United States, melting pot, lost European — or whatever, African, Asian identities. Let’s say you decide to go to United States and you are sad about leaving your country. What really makes you sad? I claim it’s not that “Oh my God, this is my country I will never see it again”; it’s something much nicer, I claim. It is that what you are silently aware of is that after 10, 20 years in United States, you will stop missing your country. You will lose the desire for it. That’s the true horror.

Again, I claim that melancholy occurs not when we lose the object, but precisely when the object is here but we lose the desire for it. This is why modern philosophical subject cogito is deeply melancholic. Everything is here, but you no longer desire it. And so I claim that this is the enigma of modernity. It’s not some kind of protestant ethics which prohibits I don’t know what. It’s that you lose desire, and prohibitions come — precisely a desperate, secondary attempt to resuscitate desire. You know the St. Paul [?] trick like if something which is experienced as lost, if we on the top of it prohibit it, then maybe we will be able to desire it again. So again I claim that this is how we have to account for this loss of premodern forms of collective enjoyment and so on. It’s not that they were prohibited, they were precisely lost, disinvested prior to.

Why is this important? Because I think we should treat this nostalgic, hippie attitude towards Wall Street precisely as an example of false, fake melancholy, as if somehow we regain the old collective feeling and so on. I claim that precisely this is false.

Why? Let me do a little bit of critique of certain reactions to Wall Street. The symbol of Wall Street is, as we all know, the metal statue of a bull, there in the center. And I think, some people, but not too many people, use — it came to me, I read it somewhere — this so obvious dirty word with play that you know, we talk about bullshit. We really got the shit of the bull. No?

(Zizek's Response to Anne Applebaum)

So, while the standard reaction of the Wall Street itself against the protest is the expected, vulgar bullshitting, I want to draw your attention to a more intelligent, but I think even more disgusting reaction; a critical rejection of Wall Street; a very liberal, sophisticated one: it was done a couple of days ago by Anne Applebaum, you know, the lady who wrote a book on gulag and so on. Again, it’s a very sophisticated argumentation. She even, in a slightly tasteless but almost convincing way, she [?] the [?] Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, where this Brian, the new Christ figure shouts to the people, “You are free individuals!” and then all of them shout, together as a crowd, “Yes we are free individuals!”; claiming that my functioning of repetition reminds her of that.

Okay, but nonetheless I claim... her reaction to it, and I will just read you two long paragraphs; I think they are worth quoting. It’s ideology at its purest, precisely in the way they make her argumentation appear convincing. So again, the basis of Applebaum’s reasoning is the idea that the Wall Street type protests around the world are:

similar in their lack of focus, in their confused nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions. In New York, marchers chanted, “This is what democracy looks like,” but actually, this isn’t what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities...

“Yet,” she goes on:

in one sense, the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: Both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians...

The emergence of an international protest movement without a coherent program is therefore not an accident: It reflects a deeper crisis, one without an obvious solution. Democracy is based on the rule of law. Democracy works only within distinct borders and among people who feel themselves to be part of the same nation. A “global community” cannot be a national democracy. And a national democracy cannot command the allegiance of a billion-dollar global hedge fund, with its headquarters in a tax haven and its employees scattered around the world.

Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, to whom the New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions in the Western world. They are designed to reflect, at least crudely, the desire for political change within a given nation. But they cannot cope with the desire for global political change, nor can they control things that happen outside their borders. Although I still believe in globalization’s economic and spiritual benefits — along with open borders, freedom of movement and free trade — globalization has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.

“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

End of quote. For this, in my universe, you go to gulag. Why? Let me explain. Firstly, the first thing to note, you notice how Applebaum reduces Tahrir Square protests to the calls of Western-style democracy. It’s as if, you know, they really want what we already have here. Once we do this, it of course becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests to the Egyptian event. How can protestors here demand what we already have? That is to say, democratic institutions? What is there lost from view — that’s why I oppose this idea — is the general discontent with the global capitalist system which obviously acquires different here and there. So I again claim that she misses the point.

Different as they are, protests here, in Southern Europe, in Egypt, whatever; what unites them is they’re precisely not political in the narrow sense of more democracy, or whatever. They signal a kind of a shared global discontent with their capitalistic system. And now I come to the crucial point: the most shocking part for me of Applebaum’s argumentation, a truly weird gap in her line of reasoning occurs at the end of the passage I read to you. After conceding that the catastrophic economic consequences of global capitalist financial dealings are due to their international character out of control of democratic mechanisms, she remembered to make this point clear: what happens at the level of international capital is simply out of control of democratic mechanisms. And she draws from this the necessary conclusion. Here, we should agree with her, I quote it again: “Globalization” — she means capitalist globalization — “has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.”

Because again, things happen there which are out of control of at least normal, the way we have them, democratic processes. Okay, so far, we can agree because I claim this is precisely what the protestors are drawing attention to, that global capitalism undermines potentially democracy. But instead of drawing the only logical, further conclusion that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its state multi-party political forum, which obviously leaves out destructive consequences of economic life; instead of this, Applebaum performs a weird turnaround and she shifts the blame on protestors themselves who raise these questions.

Her last paragraph deserves to be read again. Listen.

“Global” activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout,“We need to have a process!” Well, they already have a process: It’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.

End of quote. So her logic is, since global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to be will only accelerate the decline of democracy. What then can we do? Remember, she says, we should engage in the existing political system. But wait a minute. Paragraph above, she says that precisely this system cannot do the job. So it’s very strange, her conclusion. Her conclusion is basically we cannot do anything. We have our democracy. If you buy it, you have to accept that global capital movement and so on are outside its scope. If you try something more, democracy no longer functions. But it is here I claim that you should go to the end. To the end, even in anti-capitalism.

There is no lack of anti-capitalism today. We are even witnessing an overload of the critique of the hours of capitalism. Books, newspaper, in-depth investigations, TV reports. You know, you cannot open a newspaper without reading this company is polluting environment, corrupted bankers continue to get fat bonuses while their banks are saved by public money, sweatshops in the third world where children work over time and so on.

There is, however, a catch to all this overflow of critique of capitalism. What is, as a rule, not in question in this critique is the democratic, liberal political frame of fighting against these excesses. The explicit or implicit goal is to democratize capitalism. By this it’s meant not to think deeply about our democracy, but simply to extend our standard notion of politics, party politics, representative democracy into more interventionist one. Extend democratic control of economy through the pressure of the public media, parliamentary inquiry, harsher laws, honest police investigations, and so on. But never questioning the democratic institutional framework of our state of law. This remains the sacred cow even when we are dealing with the most radical forms of this, I call it, ethical anti-capitalism — Seattle movement, Porto Allegre, and so on. I think they’re moralism, like greedy bankers, dishonest companies, is a sign of their weakness.

It is here that Marxist key insight remains valid today, I claim, more than ever. For Marx, and this is for me the true lesson of Wall Street protests, the question of freedom should not be located primarily into the political sphere proper: Does a country has free elections? Are the judges independent? Is the press free from hidden pressures? Are human rights respected? And the similar list of questions, different independent Western institutions apply when they want to pronounce a judgment on a country.

The key to actual freedom rather resides in the apolitical, what appears to be apolitical. Network of social relations. From the market to the family where the change needed if we want an actual improvement is not political reform but a change in apolitical social relations of production.

So Anne Applebaum is right. We do not vote about who owns what, about relations in a factory and so on. All this is left to process outside the political sphere proper. And it is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by simply extending our parliamentary democracy into this sphere, for example, by organizing democratic banks under people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of legal rights. Such democratic procedures, of course, can play a very positive role. No matter how radical their anti-capitalism is, the solution they seek resides in applying representative democratic mechanisms but again, and Applebaum is right, they live out of control; the economic sphere proper and so on.

In this sense only, don’t misunderstand here, I think that Alain Badiou was right in his claim that today — it sounds terrible — the name of the enemy, he wrote once, is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything similar, the name of the enemy today is democracy. Now you will say, “ha ha, now we got you, totalitarian!” or whatever. No no no, I claim, what he only wanted to say is that our too blind attachment to formal democratic party state mechanism prevents our approaching a true problem. So again, I think what Applebaum accepts as the fact, “We can’t do anything, that’s it”. This precisely I claim is the starting point of the deep dissatisfaction which exploded in all anti-Wall Street protests. This precisely they feel that we have certain political multi-party system, obviously we are witnessing dangerous, even catastrophic phenomena in economy, and it’s obviously that this type of democratic system, the way it is now, cannot do the work; because it implies precisely this duality which is very nicely emphasized in Applebaum, between political sphere where we are all free but we have to follow the procedures, proper democratic procedures and so on, and economics sphere of private relations, whatever, which is left out. It is obvious that the urgent task today is precisely to find a way to control or to regulate — I don’t like the word 'control' here — precisely that sphere without of course returning to old 20th century totalitarian notions and practices.

So I think what Applebaum is complaining about, “Oh these protests are not clearly formulated, they don’t know what they want.” Let’s return briefly to psychoanalysis. This is a typical dialogue between a patriarchal husband and a hysterical wife, you know. The wife complains, of course in a confused way, and the standard male chauvinist answer is, “say clearly what do you want?” This is of course oppression at its purest. It means “either shut up or formulate it in my terms.”

(The Need to Preserve the Vacuum Created by Wall St. Protests)

Bill Clinton said this very nice in a sympathetic reaction to Wall Street protestors — which is why I claim Bill Clinton practices clinching; you know what is clinching, you embrace the enemy no? Like we should talk and so on but show us, tell us, give us concrete proposals, what do you want? Well my simple answer is that — and Bill Clinton says ominously, “because your demands create a vacuum, and if you don’t bring quickly concrete proposals which will fill in this vacuum, who knows who will fill in this vacuum?” But at this point, I claim, precisely we should maintain this openness in all ominous directions. We don’t need dialogue with those in power. We need critical dialogue with ourselves. We need time to think. We effectively don’t know. And nobody knows. On the one hand we should reject the cheap — because Mao was never so stupid — psuedo-Maoist idea, “Learn from the people, people know”. No, they don’t know. Do we intellectuals know? Also, we don’t know. I mean, any intellectual who says, “Okay, people now have some confused ideas, oh I have a ready and precise plan of what to do,” they are bluffing. We don’t know where we are.

But I think that this openness is precisely what is great about these protests. It means that precisely a certain vacuum open the fundamental dissatisfactions in the system. The vacuum simply means open space for thinking, for new freedom, and so on. Let’s not fill in this vacuum too quickly. Because the only way to fill it in is either by stupid utopian thinking — “we should have a Leninist party back” or whatever — or with this pragmatic approach: “raise the taxes for the rich by 2%” or whatever. Okay, nothing against this second one, first of all. But my god, this is not the solution, you know what I mean? The system is in crisis, the important thing is precisely that vacuum is open. And if some people experience this as terror, something violent, “Look they don’t want to even talk with us.” Yes, precisely I like this ominous dimension, you know? “You want to talk with us. No thanks.” At this point, no dialogue. We have to keep the situation open.

So who knows then?, if neither intellectuals nor so-called ordinary people know. What I would like here to propose a solution. No, not a solution, just a metaphor. In a book that I advise you to buy, it’s my favorite Soviet writer who was of course a dissident practically not published, and you have back there, I think, on a table some New York Public Library books or whatever, I bought here a week ago, a book on some kind of special discount. It’s a book by Andrei Platonov, an incredible Russian writer, which has afterword by John Berger, well known European progressive writer. In referring to all these protests, although he referred to older protests, but I think he gives a wonderful analysis. Here is what he says, I quote: “The multitudes” — here I don’t like it, it has to be censored, it sounds too much Negri [?]:

The multitudes have answers to questions which have not yet been posed, and they have the capacity to outlive the walls.

The questions are not yet asked because to do so requires words and concepts which ring true, and those currently being used to name events have been rendered meaningless: Democracy, Liberty, Productivity, etc.

With new concepts the questions will soon be posed, for history involves precisely such a process of questioning. Soon? Within a generation.

(The Ordinary People)

What I like in this idea is not that it turns around the usual relationship between intellectual vanguard and ordinary people; “ordinary people are stupid, oh we are not.” According to this vision, “Oh we don’t know what we want. We ask the question to the intellectual, he will provide answers.” Here, you make notice, it’s the opposite. It’s really as in psychoanalytic treatment. Ordinary people have the answers, they even are the answers. Like a symptom. What they don’t know is the proper question to which they are an answer. This is what maybe we intellectuals know. You know, we should refer here to a wonderful point by Claude Lévi-Strauss, apropos the prohibition of incest. Where he says, no, prohibition of incest is not an enigma in the sense of we don’t know what it is. He says, prohibition of incest is an answer, but we don’t know to what question it is an answer. And I think this is how, if we approach in this way the protests, I think we intellectuals should not patronize those immediate non-intellectual protestors. We should — the worst patronization would be to celebrate them as ‘oooh, the wisdom of ordinary people’, like, you know, Mao in late fifties in China. ‘Go and learn from farmers’ and so on. You know, whenever a leader tells you this, it always means “Learn from the people, but we in the central committee of the party know better than the people what the people really want” or whatever. So, no, do not patronize the people.

(The True 99%)

Start asking critical questions, like Udi Aloni, who is now somewhere to stab me into my back, I think, draw my attention to this famous 99%. We are 99%, you the enemies are 1%. The point is not only like how many of Americans would really recognize the protestors as 99%. What is more interesting for me is that, Who are these 99%? Not Wall Street. Are they Wall Street protestors? Probably they are. But I raise the question, Are they ready to recognize that the true 99% are not only they, dissatisfied Americans, but the poor starving, I don’t know, in Somalia, in Congo, all around the world. These are the true 99%.

For example, if you want a battle, I’m not saying we should now just listen to its other silences and do nothing. There are battles to be fought. Like, I’ve written in one of my earlier books about this new list of countries in [?] to grab land in undeveloped countries. From what I read recently, it is exploding. Let’s take a country now which is in the grip of starvation. Ethiopia. Do you know that there western companies are buying incredible parts of the most fertile land, and to make things worse, look how fragile things are. You know, in Ehtiopia, there is the origin of Nile, the river. And all the balance of the three countries, Ethiopia, Sudan, especially Egypt, relies on this agreement concluded, if I know correctly, I’m not sure, even in colonial times or later, that Ethiopians should not use more than a certain very low percentage of Nile water because if they do more then Egypt can have unpredictable consequences.

(A New Multi-Centric World)

Now, this is starting to happen. Companies — and I’m not blaming you, even Americans here; no no I claim we are entering a new multi-centric world. So, this maybe a surprise for you: you are not always automatically the bad guys today int he world. I don’t hate United States. Bad guys are Arab Emirates, India, China, South Korea; these are the worst. They are buying like crazy. They bought recently, again, gigantic tracts of land in Ethiopia, the country where in its other part there is draught, massive starvation now. Colonize it, fire the local farmers strictly, grow plans for export, so on. And this is happening on an incredibly massive level. Now I can understand this happening — maybe, I’m not so sure, but conditionally — in countries like Brazil or Argentina where at least they do have enough water and enough of fertile land, which is not fully exploited. But in countries like — I don’t know where it’s happening, I don’t know: Kenya, Somalia, Ethiophia, Mozambique, and so on; it’s a catastrophe. So there are battles to be fought but nonetheless, my message is: time for thinking. Be patient.

(The Taboo)
And again, the crucial thing is to avoid this duality of either “oh we just have a good time, forget consequences” or this call for cheap pragmatism. What is important is that that taboo is broken. We know the system is potentially in a serious crisis. At the same time we know that the 20th century is over not only in the mechanic calendar sense. Which is to say that the 20th century solution — Stalinist communism, the traditional democracy and so on — don’t work. There is work to be done and I think only this refined interaction between educated intellectuals and so called ordinary people, where again we should not, absolutely not act as the ones — as we say in Lacanian theory — subjects supposed to know. All we can do is provide the tools to formulate the right questions. And with this interaction with those apparently formless demands from the people, maybe there is a hope that something new will emerge. Because, you know, what always — I repeat this always, I’m sorry, some of you already know these phrases; what terrifies me is this idea of “oh now we have a wonderful carnival.” Yeah but screw it, what interests me is the day after. My primordial fear is that the movement will slowly disperse and then what? Ten years after you will meet with your friends, drink bear, and “oh my God, what a wonderful time did we have there but now I have to go back to my banking job now.” Someone has to imagine. The process of thinking has to begin. So again, it’s patience. It’s precisely — sorry, for some of you may be obscene — what in Christianity they call the work of love, which is slow, patient, hard work.

(The Obscene Pact of Zionism)

Well, again, the first thing is to locate what is happening here today in global context, like the one who wants to stab me in my back, my good friend Udi Aloni, just published a book, I advise you to read it, What Does a Jew Want? It’s a collective reader with Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and some other minor persons [like me] and so on, where it’s something really wonderful because it’s in support of Palestinian struggle for independence but — that’s the miracle — from the standpoint of Jewish spirituality. The reasoning is not “oh we should constrain ourselves”; no, it’s this deep insight into how what is happening now in the Middle East with new Zionist politics; the victims will be the Jews themselves. Not in the sense that they will be overrun by Arabs, but in the sense that the very — how should I call it — spiritual substance of Jewish [?] is changing.

Something terrible is happening. What? Did you notice something about that big bad guy Breivik in Oslo? Shooting guy. Read — I didn’t but my friends sent me some passages — his manifesto. And you will find something extremely ominous. He is representative of something terrible for me. The figure of Zinoist anti-Semitic political agent. On the one hand, Breivik was totally pro-Zionist. He said yeah Israel should expand West Bank, Israel is our barrier against Arab invasion, blah blah. At the same time, once you move within European states and United States, he is the good old anti-Semitic subject. He writes how in France and West Europe, there are not too many Jews, there is no problem, but in the UK and especially United States, you have 60 million Jews, that’s a problem you will have to solve it. So you see this paradox. You can say this is stupid European, but your name of Breivik is Glenn Beck. You know, he was fired from Fox News for anti-Semitic remarks but do you know that he is at the same time unconditionally pro-Zionist. For me the tragedy of the politics of the state of Israel is that it seems to accept this obscene pact with, for example, Christian fundamentalists. You know, my bells start to ring when I learned American Christian fundamentalists started to — and this is new phenomenon, if I remember correctly, it’s some 10, 20 years back — fully support the state of Israel in its expansionist policy.

Now I ask myself, what is happening? If there ever in this world was a group of people in whose very — ironically I’m saying — genetic identity anti-Semitism is part of it, no? It’s American Christian fundamentalists. What is happening now, all of a sudden, pro-Zionists. I claim because it’s precisely obscene pact, which is, We the state of Israel allow you to remain the same as you were which cost us years ago being victims of programs, if you allow us to play the same role on the West Bank. I’m very much a pessimist here. So again, I’m not saying we should simply, immediately bring out one, universal big struggle. I’m just saying that it would strengthen every local movement, which has to fight its own local struggles; to be a little bit aware of how it fits into global events today.

(Value of Debate on Universal Healthcare)
For example, I’m not telling you, again, Don’t do anything. Although I, like everyone, but it’s fashionable today, am disappointed in Obama, but I still think it’s a great thing when he triggered the debate about public, universal health care. It was the right debate even [?] compromise totally diluted the solution. But see, why it was well-chosen topic. Because it was a demand, universal health care, for something which we obviously cannot dismiss as some leftist communist distractive utopia. No, it exists elsewhere, and it functions, in Canada, in Scandinavian and other European countries but at the same time, obviously, it did disturb the very core of American ideology of freedom. You know that the public [?] focus on this. They want to deprive us of the freedom of choice, and so on. Such topics we need. Topics which are clearly economically possible, can mobilize the people, and at the same time appear almost impossible but for purely ideological reasons.

So again, this is all I can offer you. This slow work, where we avoid this false leftist melancholy, which is a very comfortable position of enjoying your situation. I’m here a puritan, you know. Okay, I’m a puritan also protestant in the sense that, you know, my favorite rule about sexuality is the protestant one. As they say, ‘Everything is permitted as long as you feel guilty about it.’ But what I’m saying is that it’s really this eager carnivalesque or melancholic pleasure in plain. Like I already see some of my friends who say, Oh my god, I see Wall Street, they are already tired, it will be over. You know this, this is typical melancholy; they are still there, demonstrating; these people already cannot conceal their joy at imagining how beautiful it will be to be sad when it will be over.

Work, work, this is the good protestant attitude. Work, work. Don’t be afraid of words like work, discipline, community and so on. We should take all this from the right wingers. Don’t allow enemy to take from you to determine the terrain of the struggle. People think today that if you mention work, discipline, soldiers, fight, ‘Oh you’re a neo-fascist.’ No, are you aware that this idea of workers in uniforms marching in discipline; sorry to tell you, Hitler took this from social democracy. And maybe it’s time for us to get it back. Don’t allow the enemy — this is so important today; Don’t allow the enemy to blackmail you in the sense of determining the terrain of the struggle. We shouldn’t decide in opposition to the enemy.

(Egyptian Army & Muslim Brotherhood)

So again, there is room for cautious optimism. With all problems I know dangers are always on the horizon. For example, some Egyptian friends don’t like when I say this but other Egyptian friends of mine are telling me, that now there is a possibility, very serious one, let’s hope it will not be coming true; in Egypt the result will be, what, a kind of obscene pact between the army — which is still, remember, totally the same old Mubarak army — and the Muslim Brotherhood. The deal which one can see in the horizon is Muslim Brotherhood will get more or less some kind of ideological hegemony in exchange for the army keeping its power and all its corrupted structure. So there is a long [?] but remember nonetheless a new era is here. A certain taboo fell down. People are accepting the fact that we don’t live in the world of Pelican Brief and All the President’s Men, where they’re very anti-capitalists but the guilty are a couple of corrupted managers, CEO’s, politicians.. and then we get rid of these guys and everything will be okay. No, the problem is in the system, and we have to start to think, bearing in mind the tragic experience of 20th century. So in other words, at least I can say as a philosopher, we live in maybe potentially tragic times, but there is more than enough job for us philosophers. It’s our time. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Violent Silence of a New Beginning

By Slavoj Žižek

Please see the full essay at


The Western Left has come full circle: After abandoning the so-called “class struggle essentialism” for the plurality of anti-racist, feminist, gay rights etc., struggles, “capitalism” is now re-emerging as the name of THE problem. So the first lesson to be learned is: Do not blame people and their attitudes. The problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is not found in the slogan “Main Street, not Wall Street,” but to change the system in which Main Street cannot function without Wall Street.

There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions—questions not about what we do not want, but rather about what we DO want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders do we need? What new institutions, including those of control, should we shape? The 20th century alternatives obviously did not work.


The open-ended debates will have to coalesce not only in some new Master-Signifiers, but also in concrete answers to the old question: “What is to be done?”

What the protesters are not

The direct conservative attacks are easy to answer.

Are the protests un-American? When conservative fundamentalists claim that America is a Christian nation, one should remember what Christianity is: the Holy Spirit, the free egalitarian community of believers united by love. It is the protesters who are the Holy Spirit, while on Wall Street pagans worship false idols.

Are the protesters violent? True, their very language may appear violent (occupation, and so on), but they are violent in the sense in which Mahatma Gandhi was violent. They are violent because they want to put a stop to the way things are done — –but what is this violence compared to the violence needed to sustain the smooth functioning of the global capitalist system?

The protesters are called “losers” — but the true losers are on Wall Street, bailed out by hundreds of billions of our money.

They are called socialists. But in the United States, there already is socialism for the rich.

They are accused of not respecting private property — but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if the protesters were to be destroying it night and day. Think of the tens of thousands of homes foreclosed.

They are not communists, if communism means the system that deservedly collapsed in 1990. The communists who are still in power run the world’s most ruthless capitalist system (China). The success of Chinese Communist-run capitalism is a sign that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is approaching a divorce.

The only sense in which the protesters are communists is that they care for the commons—the commons of nature, of knowledge—that are threatened by the system.

The protesters are dismissed as dreamers, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely the way they are, just with some cosmetic changes.

The protesters are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare. They are not destroying anything. They are reacting to a system that is gradually destroying itself.

We all know the classic scene from cartoons: The cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. What the protesters are doing is reminding those in power to look down.

Beware false friends

Refuting such falsehoods is the easy part. The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture.

In boxing, to “clinch” means to hold the opponent’s body with one or both arms in order to prevent or hinder punches. Bill Clinton’s reaction to the Wall Street protests is a perfect case of political clinching; Clinton thinks that the protests are “on balance…a positive thing,” but on October 12 he worried about the nebulousness of the cause: “They need to be for something specific, and not just against something, because if you’re just against something, someone else will fill the vacuum you create.” Clinton suggested the protesters get behind President Obama’s jobs plan, which he claimed would create “a couple million jobs in the next year and a half.”

What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of “concrete” pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum — a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in a proper way, since it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly New.

The protesters are occupying streets and parks because they have had enough of a world where recycling Coke cans, giving a couple of dollars for charity, or buying a Starbucks cappuccino where 1 percent goes for the Third World troubles is enough to make them feel good. After seeing work and torture outsourced, after matchmaking agencies even started to outsource dating, they realized they had been allowing their political engagement to also be outsourced — and they want it back.

The art of politics is to insist on a particular demand that while thoroughly “realistic” also disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology, i.e. which, while definitely feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible (universal healthcare in the United States was such a case). As the Wall Street protests continue, we should mobilize people around such demands.

At the same time it is important to simultaneously remain subtracted from the pragmatic field of negotiations and “realist” proposals. Everything we say now can be taken (recuperated) from us — everything except our silence. This silence, this rejection of dialogue, of all forms of clinching, is ominous and threatening to the establishment it, as it should be.

Wall Street protests are a beginning, and one has to begin like that. A formal gesture of rejection is more important than positive content, because only such a gesture opens up the space for a new content. So we should not be terrorized by the perennial question: “But what do they want?” After all, this is the archetypal question addressed by a male master to a hysterical woman: “You whine and you complain, but do you know at all what you really want?” In the psychoanalytic sense, the protests effectively are a hysterical act, provoking the master, undermining his authority. And the question “But what do you want?” aims precisely to preclude the true answer — its real purpose is: “Tell it in my terms or shut up!”

Finding the right questions

This, of course, does not mean that the protesters should be pampered and flattered. Today, more than ever, intellectuals should combine their full support of the protesters with a non-patronizing cold analytic distance, beginning with the probe into the protesters’ self-designation as 99 percent against the greedy 1 percent: How many of the 99 percent are ready to accept the protesters as their voice, and to what extent?

We should avoid the temptation of the narcissism of the lost cause, of admiring the sublime beauty of uprisings doomed to fail. What new positive order should replace the old one the day after, when the sublime enthusiasm of the uprising is over?

If we take a closer look at the well-known manifesto of Spain’s original indignados (the angry ones), published this past spring, we are in for a surprise. The first thing that strikes the eye is the pointedly apolitical tone:

Some of us consider ourselves progressive, others conservative. Some of us are believers, some not. Some of us have clearly defined ideologies, others are apolitical, but we are all concerned and angry about the political, economic, and social outlook which we see around us: corruption among politicians, businessmen, bankers, leaving us helpless, without a voice.

They voice their protest on behalf of the “inalienable truths that we should abide by in our society: the right to housing, employment, culture, health, education, political participation, free personal development, and consumer rights for a healthy and happy life.” Rejecting violence, they call for an “ethical revolution. Instead of placing money above human beings, we shall put it back to our service. We are people, not products. I am not a product of what I buy, why I buy and who I buy from.”

Who will be the agent of such a revolution? The entire political class, Right and Left, is dismissed as corrupted and controlled by the lust for power, but the manifesto nonetheless consists of a series of demands addressed to—whom? Not the people themselves: the indignados do not (yet) claim that no one will do it for them, that (to paraphrase Gandhi) they themselves have to be the change they want to see.

Who, then, does know what to do? Faced with the demands of the protesters, intellectuals are definitely not in the position of the subjects supposed to know: They cannot operationalize these demands and translate them into proposals for precise and detailed realistic measures. With the fall of the 20th century Communism, intellectuals forever forfeited the role of the vanguard that knows the laws of history and can guide the innocents along its path.

So is this not a deadlock: a blind man leading a blind man, or, more precisely, each of them presupposing the other is not blind? No, because their respective ignorance is not symmetrical: It is the people who have the answers, they just don’t know the questions to which they have (or, rather, are) the answer.

In Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, John Berger wrote about the “multitudes” of those who found themselves on the wrong side of the Wall (which divides those who are in from those who are out):

The multitudes have answers to questions which have not yet been posed, and they have the capacity to outlive the walls.

The questions are not yet asked because to do so requires words and concepts which ring true, and those currently being used to name events have been rendered meaningless: Democracy, Liberty, Productivity, etc.

With new concepts the questions will soon be posed, for history involves precisely such a process of questioning. Soon? Within a generation.

The situation is like that of psychoanalysis, where the patient knows the answer (his symptoms are such answers) but doesn’t know what they are answers to, and it is up to the analyst to formulate the appropriate questions. We should treat the demands of the Wall Street protests in a similar way: Instead of wondering “What are they asking for? What are their demands and what are their proposed programs?”, intellectuals should see the Occupy protests as the answers for which we are not yet asking the right questions.

Only through such patient work will a program emerge.