[Note: Some questions have been shortened and made more precise]
You are defending Lenin and communism and you criticize capitalism, state and liberalism. But you reject the revolutionary potential of the world working class … Why?
First, I’m not defending Lenin. I’m just saying that October Revolution was an authentic emancipatory event. But at the same time I’m well aware, that Stalinism was from the very beginning inscribed at least as a possibility in October Revolution. Second, I don’t just criticise liberalism. I have great appreciation for the freedoms about which liberalism is talking. I’m not repeating this old pseudo-Marxist point that we just have formal freedoms, but not actual freedom. Form matters. When we are formally free, only then we become aware how limited this freedom actually is. The problem is effectively who is a possible agent of change today. It can no longer be the traditional working class. Because to be a traditional worker, let’s say I’m employed by a big factory or company and I have a safe long term job. Ok, I am exploited, but in a stable way. This is almost a privilege today. What about permanently unemployed. What about precarious workers? What about all those living outside of our cupola, our universe? So the only agency of possible change I think can rise with the combination of all these dispossessed, marginalised and so on. Illegal immigrant workers, permanently unemployed, those living under ecological threat, the task is to somehow join all these multiple points. And there is no Marxist teleology that guarantees the success. Maybe we’ll just go on and end up in a new apartheid nightmare. But nonetheless I’m not a total pessimist. I think that strength comes only from admitting defeat, or the full extent of the crisis in which we’re in. We have to become aware, finally, that the 20th century is over. All 20th century answers to capitalism no longer really work. With regard to Stalinist communism, it’s a supreme ironic fact that where today communists still in power, they are the most efficient ruthless managers of capitalism. The ideal place to be a capitalist is China: they control trade unions and guarantee workers will not rebel.
Unfortunately I think the era of social democratic welfare state is over – it is only possible in strong nation states. But today with the free global flow of capital, it’s almost impossible for a nation state to guarantee the condition for universal welfare. Then as I already said, I think the appeals to grassroots democracy don’t work.
But this is not all the truth. There are multiple signs that something new is possible. Let me conclude with one example. Free downloading. Aren’t we almost entering communism there? Even DVDs are disappearing. I think capitalism will not be able to integrate so-called intellectual property. Intellectual achievements are in their very nature communists, able to circulate freely. And this free availability of products is already opening up a non-capitalist space, even if it is the product of the most advanced capitalism. Again, just look for the signs. There are signs of an alternative. We just have to be patient and wait. We should act, but not in the old Marxist way that we are instruments of higher historical necessity. We should fight all our struggles, against sexism here, racism there, and so on. But we should nonetheless keep open a sense of risk. There is always a mystery in political activity. You think you are engaged in a big project and nothing comes out of it. But often you make just a small demand, and if you insist on it, everything changes. We cannot master in advance the consequences of our acts. We should act and keep our mind open.
So let me finish with a militaristic phrase from Napoleon:
on attack, then we shall see.
That should be our motto.
“The End of History”, or Fukuyamaism as you sometimes name it, is a concept that appears in a number of your political writings. What do you think is unique about this period in History? And what do you mean by “end”? Is this an “end” in the sense of a failure of imagination? Is it due to the defeats of the Left from its peak in the mid C20th? Or do you think something is happening with regard to the systemic level of capitalism as a mode of production, to use a term one does not hear very often anymore?
I remember when Fukuyama published his book on The End of History, it was very fashionable to mock him. But in a certain sense, almost all of us were Fukuyamaists. Even the left, most of the left, was not raising fundamental questions, the big questions about the future of capitalism or state. They were just trying to make the existing system more just. And more efficient. And I think the big question today is: is this enough? It is clear, common sense tells us, that we humanity, all of us, are approaching a series of potential catastrophic problems, antagonisms. Ecology, the problem of finances and how to control them, intellectual property, who will control biogenetics, and especially new forms of apartheid in our societies. People say our society is becoming global: Berlin Wall fell down. Yes, but new walls are emerging everywhere, even literally. United States and Mexico, Israel and West Bank. And so on.
Here I want to refer to a rightwing philosopher who I appreciate, the German Peter Sloterdijk. He made a very intelligent observation about globalism. He said that globalism doesn’t mean we are all in one big global society, he said that globe also means globe in the sense of cupola, grouping us and isolating us from the rest. Like he was probably referring to films like Elysium, where the privileged elite live under a protective cupola. And this is more and more our situation today. Go to LA: you have the symbolic cupola of Hollywood, Santa Monica, and then you have Inglewood, and literally if you are within the privileged part you are rationally aware there are slums but you don’t really see them, they are not part of your world. You just become aware of them when violent riots, protests, explode.