Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lenin, Lenin and Zizek on rights

Hello dear readers (well those who remain). I will post more soon (if you want me to) but I have terrifyingly busy this term and not particularly inspired. However, I felt compelled to respond tothe furore surrounding this whole 'cartoons' situation. First and foremost I really suggest you read K-punk on this which is for my money by far the best analysis of the whole situation - one which manages to negiotate the twin pitfalls of a knee 'I love freedom of speech' reaction and the 'long live Allah!' response. In many respects this reminds me of Zizek's Against the Double Blackmail, where he states:
What if phenomena like the Milosevic regime are not the opposite to the New World Order, but rather its SYMPTOM, the place at which the hidden TRUTH of the New World Order emerges?
In a rather typical post Lenin (the God of the left blogosphere for what my opinion's worth) addresses the issue of 'free speech' as regards the current problems:
Free speech, then, is in material terms, in this climate, and at this conjuncture, the freedom to denigrate black people, Muslims, Arabs and just about anyone liable to come on the wrong end of Western power. So cut it out. It's not funny any more, just quit it.
Normally, I think I come off as quite the 'moderate Marxist' but in this case I think I agree with Lenin to a large degree. As I hope I have consistently stressed in this blog 'rights' and 'freedom' are necessarily indeterminate, and as such are infinitely contestible - as such specifc conjunctura; balances of class forces will affect them rather a lot. Lenin's analyis spot on as it is reminds me of another Lenin, who (apparently) responded to the question of freedom with:
“Freedom yes, but for whom? To do what?”
Such is the necessity of a materialist analysis. Freedom simply cannot be understood as some 'idea' eternally floating above all specific historical and material considerations. Rather particular types of 'freedom' must be considered as rooted in and posited by particular material conjunctures and organic tendencies. If one ignores the fact that 'freedom' is demarcated by struggle one lapses into a horrifyingly bourgeois discource (I'm not saying 'freedom' is bourgeois, merely that freedom is a historically and materially conditioned concept). In this regard I really like Zizek's quote vis-a-vis human rights:
So, to put it in the Leninist way: what the ‘human rights of Third World suffering victims’ effectively means today, in the predominant discourse, is the right of Western powers themselves to intervene politically, economically, culturally and militarily in the Third World countries of their choice, in the name of defending human rights.
But. One thing that all of these (exceedingly clever) people seem to ignores it the possibility that conjunctures can change. Whilst I agree entirely that currently many 'rights' are entirely dominated by capital I also understand that their contestibility means that class struggle can change their content. Though I am under no bounds about the historical and material origin of rights (commidty production see my older posts) I also get that in our current organic situation struggle can redefine these rights.

Thus rather than 'abstaining' from freedom perhaps we should be engaged in redefining it...

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