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#6: Revolution or Resistance

Alexei Penzin // Registers of Resistance

“Of course, there is a huge difference between authentic social struggle in the name of the exploited minorities…and…sowing the kind of safe, harmless, inoffensive resistance that flourishes among “radical” university professors”. (S. Zizek, “Repeating Lenin”)

Even the media-adept Zizek sees “resistance” as something that provides a hidden legitimation of the status quo, poignantly uncovering its motivation (the Lacanian model of hysterical behaviour): the intellectual-resistance-fighter constantly provokes the “System” (the Other, the Master) with his texts and public appearances, but the name of the game is that nothing should ever change, that everything should be understood in the framework of “psychology” (as the confirmation of non-conformist identity).

“Of course, there is a huge difference between authentic social struggle in the name of the exploited minorities…and…sowing the kind of safe, harmless, inoffensive resistance that flourishes among “radical” university professors”. (S. Zizek, “Repeating Lenin”)

Even the media-adept Zizek sees “resistance” as something that provides a hidden legitimation of the status quo, poignantly uncovering its motivation (the Lacanian model of hysterical behaviour): the intellectual-resistance-fighter constantly provokes the “System” (the Other, the Master) with his texts and public appearances, but the name of the game is that nothing should ever change, that everything should be understood in the framework of “psychology” (as the confirmation of non-conformist identity).

On the other hand, one can extend this critique to the activist, who behaves much like an obsessive neurotic, bound to compulsive patterns of behaviour. Participating in peaceful demonstrations, smoothly engaged in his professional “concrete small-scale activity” that also fails to present any real threat to the System, the activist can always accuse the “free-floating” intellectual of producing only “hot air” and “empty speeches”. An ideal “odd couple”, both neurotic through and through…

Naturally, it would be wrong to overestimate these individualistic “psychological” figures, limiting your analysis to the next best social group. Instead, it is important that some kind of “authenticity” of struggle is at stake. What’s more important? To analyze the system or to interact with it? Theory or praxis? We are called to choose between two liberal parodies of “package deal” struggles, to purchase one or the other “nonconformist kit”. The universally recognized banality of this situation consists in the fact that we are not currently in a state of revolution (as a cardinal change of the system), that we are located on its most distant historical margins at best. It is obvious that the gulf between theory and praxis is imposed by this “not”? (Isn’t this postulated negation a form of censorship?)

But this traumatic rift is something we continuously need to suppress. The question is not how you describe your positive, strictly choosing between the alternatives of “political activism” vs. “cultural resistance”, a choice which you are forced to make, one way or another, but of how to constantly leave this choice behind as a pseudo-problem, finding other ways to form its moments of significance. The main problem behind all of this is your relationship to the revolution as the real possibility for radical transformation, in all of its gravity.

Seen from a contemporary perspective, from within its strange historical numbness and anesthesia, the revolution seems like something extraordinarily distant, like images from films by Eisenstein (1917) or Godard (1968), hitting your eyes at random. Contemporary theory is all too skeptical. Indefatigably, it practices the disassembly of the big semantic and historical unities capable of disseminating revolution in a thousand private (individual) and casual contexts, disavowing it as an effect, a private(individual) waste production of the epoch that it must deny. But can theory ever objectify revolution completely, pushing it aside as an event, as a possibility?

It has become extremely “scandalous” to ask whether or not we are ready for revolution and for a new order of things. Are we ready to make sacrifices, to undergo deprivation? Are we ready to take risks and not simply to play reputation-games? At the same time, there is no way of testing our readiness, no matter how we see it subjectively. All cases are tested under an operative regime: either it works or it doesn’t. And no one wants to make sacrifices for foreign chimera, when the call to take action, to take risks might be no more than an empty provocation. When the question in and of itself can be repudiated as a provocation.

By retaining the gravity of this uncomfortable question about the revolution, we can form a position more reflexive than orthodox activism, and more self-critical than the ideology of cultural “resistance”. In order not to lose the feeling for this question’s gravity, it is necessary to clearly distinguish three meanings of the notion “resistance”, or to be more precise, three of its semantic registers. It is necessary to appropriate this popular term of neurotic language, endowing it with positive meaning.

1. Ethical significance is historically connected with the situation of war and occupation, with the enemy’s presence in superior force. The choice to stand and fight is made against the horizon of a success for which there are very little guarantees.

2. Micropolitical significance is defined in terms of interacting forces. Local strategies and action of contemporary bio-power give rise to equally varied local resistances. They, in turn, force the authorities to invent new types of control.

3. Political significance arises as the pre-revolutionary stage of forming communities, subjects of revolutionary struggle against the entire system of the developing biopolitical technologies and practices. In contrast to micro-political, local and spontaneous forms of resistance, political resistance (a) is coordinated, has a strategic vector and (b) tends to generalize its struggle, getting involved in the (class) struggle of the masses at large.

These registers refer to an historical process, characterizing its dynamics (radicalization), as well as its various striae and forms of activity (selection of position, spontaneous resistant action , the subjectification of struggle and the consolidation of political forces in view of revolution). In all of its registers, resistance immanently consists of political and cultural (ideological) components.

But how does resistance differ from traditional political struggles? Is it really necessary to codify this suspicious word? The ethical register of resistance reflects our historical moment – the moment of neoliberalism’s triumph coupled with the crisis of all of the old political structures that were connected with the tradition of the Left. Today, any alterity to the existing order is condemned by capital and its intellectual- skeptic servants as “ontologically impossible”, substantivized as “absolute evil” by monstrous and inadmissible means. Its micro-political register makes it possible to estimate and to accumulate the scattered potential of protest, which proceeds of all zones of our society. Finally, the political aspect of resistance makes it possible to enlarge the traditional concept of “class struggle”, which limits the space for representing class interests to political structures and their inherent tendency to play according to the dictate of the enemy’s rules.

One of the main drawbacks of the term “resistance” is its pessimistic overtone. You can only resist something that is enormous and invincible. But we already know that sometimes – at the moments that break history with revolutionary interruptions, suddenly depreciating all values and scales, that this invincible foe often turns out to be nothing more than a “paper tiger”. In order to fall into this register of revolutionary lightness, into the strength and euphoria of life’s absolute immanence, breaking free from the yoke of exploitation, it is necessary to play all of resistance’s registers.

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