Another connection I should make to Zizek concerns what is to be done. It seems clear that not very many Democrats, practically none really, actually oppose Dennis Kucinich for his stance on issues as such. None of the front-runners have said anything like this as far as I know anyway. Likewise, most reproaches to Kucinich from voters involves a one-pony show that amounts to: he has great ideas but can’t win. Like the proper approach to the German’s acceptance of the figure of the Jew in my last post, we cannot take the basic fact of the ideological constellation (in this case the idea that only the front-runners can possibly win the election) for granted when we try to understand how it constrains us and how to change that. The question we must ask here is not “why can’t he win?” but “what does it mean for you or anyone else to say that he can’t win?” The distinction here will have a similar effect as with the German and the Jew: the claim that Kucinich can’t win has nothing to do with Kucinich, or the election even! It has everything to do with what I listed in my last post, though to put it succinctly again: it has to do with a fear of democratic politics, and the implicit freedom and responsibility that go along with it.
What, then, should we do if we want a candidate of change and integrity while maintaining our freedom to actually choose one? The answer is obvious, though I do not think very satisfying: we should vote for Kucinich anyway. Zizek discusses in an excerpt from his book, “On Belief,” titled “The Leninist Freedom,” the difference between what Lenin called “formal” and “actual” freedom. The former is the freedom to do the things as allowed in a given ideological framework. In the case of my last lengthy blog-post, that is the freedom to vote for any of the neoliberal front-runners. Actual freedom is to be allowed to change the conversation completely, to do what is deemed from within the current ideological framework as “impossible.”
People seem to have some grasp of this distinction too, as a not uncommon complaint I hear and read is that all the front-runners seem the same, so there is little meaning to saying we have a choice among them. No one really goes the extra step to distinguish between this ostensible choice and the truly free choice to say fuck it to what people are saying is “realistic.” The ground-work for this is already in place though too. People also come up with the complaint that the mainstream media is “choosing” the Democratic nominee for them, and that this isn’t right. This directly parallels Zizek’s complaint of Lenin’s threat against the Mensheviks for wanting to critique the Bolsheviks in the midst of the October Revolution.
‘Either you refrain from expressing your views, or, if you insist on expressing your political views publicly in the present circumstances, when our position is far more difficult than it was when the white guards were directly attacking us, then you will have only yourselves to blame if we treat you as the worst and most pernicious white guard elements.’
Today, is it not obvious after the terrifying experience of Really Existing Socialism, where the fault of this reasoning resides? First, it reduces a historical constellation to a closed, fully contextualized, situation in which the “objective” consequences of one’s acts are fully determined (“independently of your intentions, what you are doing now objectively serves . . . “); second, the position of enunciation of such statements usurps the right to decide what your acts “objectively mean,” so that their apparent 11 objectivism” (the focus on “objective meaning”) is the form of appearance of its opposite, the thorough subjectivism: I decide what your acts objectively mean, since I define the context of a situation (say, if I conceive of my power as the immediate equivalent/expression of the power of the working class, then everyone who opposes me is “objectively” an enemy of the working class).
The argument might as well be the same coming from the Democrats:
you should not criticize the neoliberals; they are the only ones electable. Even then, it’s really down to Clinton and Obama. You’re threatening our chances of beating the Republicans by insisting on these radical Far Left issues, like Universal Healthcare and ending our participation in Capitalist globalization and war. You might as well be a Republican for how, in the name of the Democratic Party and the American people, naively you undermine the process of picking our neoliberal candidate.
The ironic thing about this move is that in accepting it we forget something we all know about human agency: free choice cannot be forcibly coerced. We forget that we actually have an actual choice in the matter, but in profound unison we convince ourselves of the objective truth given to us by the MSM that there really is no choice but the three front-runners, and really only Clinton or Obama at that.
Whether or not there is substance to either Obama or Clinton or Edward’s campaign, I think that the truly patriotic thing to do at the primaries, and of course in November, will be to re-assert our freedom and vote for the impossible candidate most of us Democrats want to be running our country: Dennis Kucinich. So many people are saying that if we can get at least one of the neoliberals in office, then we can at least get an edge-wise in on how our country is ran. What those same neoliberal apologists forget is that if we aren’t able to get an edge-wise in when it came to the elections this year, what makes them think things will be any better once/if the neoliberal administration is in power? They forget that the same formal freedom of the presidential race, in all of its lack of actual freedom, will be the same formal freedom of the new administration, which means the freedom to accept that “there is no choice.”
UPDATE: As I start to review some of the history, we are in a moment right now very much like the climate leading up to the October Revolution (i.e. Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution).
On the one hand, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks became separate factions because, in part, the Mensheviks were interested in collaborating with the conservative Constitutional Democrats and Tsarists, and in that way wanted to try and “pragmatically” appeal to a broad constituency. Something like what many Democrats have called bipartisanship. Lenin felt this compromised too much of the revolutionary project, and felt that the revolution needed to be tighter-knit with its goals and organization. Today, we see the same structure playing itself out: many Democrats, but typically the most prominent ones, want to “work with conservatives” to reach their political aims. While those people who make the most sense (Kucinich and Gravel) don’t play that game. They refuse to water down their campaigns or platforms with corporate or conservative elements, and in that way have been similarly exclusive and unshakeable. Another Marxist take on this would be that the logic of “electability” that drives the support for and the campaign of the three front-runners is the logic of commodities themselves. Kucinich, on the other hand, appeals to the use-value of his plans rather than their ability to fit into everyone’s ideological prejudices. It is this latter spirit that is at the core of democracy, while the former is better for making a buck (and fucking someone else over in the process).
I think that this year could be a lot more important than some people think, because it will be the difference between a compromise with actually changing things (in its own way, not a change at all with how things have been done) and seeing America move in a reasonable direction. Of course, people will look at this comparison to Lenin and the October Revolution as disfavorable, though they usually don’t take the time to remember what they themselves know: the Soviet Communism we all know and hate came as Lenin aged and became less influential, and then especially after he died with Stalin (and even then, not until the mid-1930s). At any rate, there is an opportunity for ground breaking change in our nation, not merely in who is in power or what they are doing but with the very way our (the people’s) freedom functions, and it involves not succumbing to the seductive but backwards “compromise” way of approaching the Democratic party. The Republicans sure as hell don’t when it comes to what’s important to them, which is why Huckabee has rose out of nothing to the winner of Iowa and I expect more elections.