On The Suicide Of The Refugee W.B.
(for Walter Benjamin)
I am told that you raised your hand against yourself
Anticipating the butcher.
After eight years of exile, observing the rise of the enemy
Then at last, brought up against an impassable frontier
You passed, they say, a passable one.
Empires collapse. Gang leaders
are strutting about like statesmen. The peoples
Can no longer be seen under all those armaments.
So the future lies in darkness and the forces of right
Are weak. All this was plain to you
When you destroyed a torturable body.
– Bertolt Brecht
In the wake of the Paris attacks Slavoj Žižek published, a now widely derided, article in In These Times. My purpose here is not to engage in the evaluation of this piece and its critiques so much; rather to expose how one of the deep errors Žižek makes is an expression of a wider subjectivity that even those of us who disagree with his perspective remain caught in. Facing the horror of our situation we experience a noticeable powerlessness to do anything about it.
What is so striking about Žižek’s argument is how it expresses a double-barrelled fantasy: a fantasy of the state’s capacity to shape social reality and a fantasy of the Left’s ability to wield the state as a tool. This expresses another argumentative coupling: that the way out of the deadlock of liberal states vs Salafist para-states and organisations is class struggle and this takes the form of taking control of the crises that confront us.
It is here where I want to break beyond Žižek. He is entirely right when he argues that in a world that is segmented and divided in a hierarchy of identities the way out is to recognise the possibility of solidarity that exists due to the antagonisms that cut through these identities themselves. ‘The real task is to build bridges between “our” and “their” working classes. Without this unity (which includes the critique and self-critique of both sides) class struggle proper regresses into a clash of civilizations’. This is the keystone of the possibility of hope: that within this dark situation a shared struggle offers a way beyond of all the old shit that is dragging us down.