the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce

David Broder reviews First as tragedy, then as farce by Slavoj Zizek

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profane (Marx, Communist Manifesto)

As we reach the end of the ‘noughties’ this month, there is much scope for reflection on the events of the last decade. There remains a crisis of alternatives to capitalism, yet together with the current dark spectres of recession and ecological crisis, two events bookmarking the decade disrupted the ideology of ‘the End of History’. The September 11th terrorist atrocities in New York shattered the illusion of the invulnerable American military hegemon, while last October’s financial meltdown has fatally undermined the gospel of free-market economics. George W. Bush’s speeches on each occasion were the same, of course: ‘action’ was needed to defend ‘our way of life’. As Slavoj Zizek acerbically comments, this brings to mind Marx’s quip that “History always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce” Continue reading “the jab of tragedy, the righthook of farce”

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review of the left press, september 2009

by Nathan Coombs

In my inaugural review of the Left press in the last issue of The Commune I took us on a journey across what seemed a fairly representative spread of the journals of the Left. On reflection, this taking them one-by-one approach was probably far from adequate: To get a sense of the pulse of the Left it would probably be more helpful to try and comment upon the emerging themes and concerns, and in some way to also provide an intervention upon them.

It is always difficult to discern much coherence to the output of the major journals; more so since so many of them seem so distant from engaged political thought. And so in this instalment I will cast my net wider than the predictable sweep of the New Left Review, International Socialism and so forth, to consider the wider world of blogs, non-typical journals and websites, all of which purvey some brand of leftist thinking. Continue reading “review of the left press, september 2009”

the tragedy of the left’s discourse on iran

an article on ZNet by Saeed Rahnema

The electoral coup and the subsequent uprising and suppression of the revolting voters in Iran have prompted all sorts of analyses in Western media from both the Right and the Left. The Right, mostly inspired by the neo-con ideology and reactionary perspectives, dreams of the re-creation of the Shah’s Iran, looks for pro-American/pro-Israeli allies among the disgruntled Iranian public, and seeks an Eastern European type velvet revolution. As there is very little substance to these analyses, they are hardly worth much critical review; and one cannot expect them to try to understand the complexities of Iranian politics and society.

As for the Left in the West, confusions abound. The progressive left, from the beginning openly supported the Iranian civil society movement.  ZNet, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Bullet, and some other media provided sound analysis to help others understand the complexities of the Iranian situation (see, for example, here).  Some intellectuals signed petitions along with their Iranian counterparts, while others chose to remain silent. But disturbingly, like in the situations in Gaza or Lebanon, where Hamas and Hezbollah uncritically became champions of anti-imperialism, for some other people on the left, Ahmadinejad has become a champion because of his seemingly firm rhetoric against Israel and the US. Based on a crude class analysis, he is also directly or indirectly praised by some for his supposed campaign against the rich and imagined support of the working poor. These analyses also undermine the genuine movement within the vibrant Iranian civil society, and denigrate their demands for democracy, and political and individual freedoms as middle class concerns, instigated by western propaganda (a view shared by Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and his supporters). Continue reading “the tragedy of the left’s discourse on iran”

report of conference ‘on the idea of communism’

by David Broder

This weekend Birkbeck in central London played host to a conference “On the Idea of Communism”, featuring such luminaries of Marxist academia as Slavoj Zizek (the main organiser), Toni Negri, Michael Hardt, Alain Badiou and Terry Eagleton.

The conference attracted nearly a thousand people, reflecting both the notoriety of the speakers and the renewed interest in communism and Marxist philosophy resulting from the economic crisis. There was even a session on ‘communism from below’. And the registration fee for anyone who wanted to discuss the future communist project was a mere… £100.

Strapped for cash, I did seriously consider just buying a ticket for the World Cup final instead. Continue reading “report of conference ‘on the idea of communism’”