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October 14, 2005


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Should we say then that the failure of Havel was not, as John Keane says, a failure to neo-liberalize, nor was it the failure to resist neo-liberalism; instead, we should say that Havel failed to demand that Socialism live up to its own standards, opting instead to demand mere (liberal) human rights. Which of course we must now be against...


Crunchy Cons?


"For me [the crunchy con thing] is about learning from the stories and struggles of others and obtaining, not only insight, but also affirmation--oh how I cringe at the word! but it's the right one to use here--of a number of unorthodox choices that I have made, and beliefs that I have developed, as a person of conservative and traditionalist leanings in today's world.

To put it another way: the Crunchy Con thing, to me, is not about commands (if you're going to be a Crunchy Con, you've got to do this! and you mustn't do that!) but about articulating and defending alternative choices and views. It's about the fact that I don't have to like Wal-Mart just because I'm a political conservative; nor do I have to be a lefty because I sometimes shop at EarthFare. (This latter point needs to be made to both liberals and conservatives, by the way.) It's about defending taste and craftsmanship and all manner of things that are humane and small-scale against the excesses of modernism and technologism and corporatism and gigantism. It's about bringing the likes of Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford back into the discussion, instead of turning our physical environment completely over to developers who give us big-box stores and clusters of McMansions, and then telling ourselves that we've got to like it because we're conservatives and there's no other way. It's about allowing us to debate the good and bad effects of technology, to make a conscientious effort to define and separate them out, to be able to argue that some forms of "progress" we would best do without, without being forced to accept the label of Luddite, or be caricatured as people who are "against science" or "don't believe in science."

It's about expanding the discussion, advancing new arguments, considering different choices...and maybe, just maybe, bestowing on conservatism new fields to plow, along with the paleo-con and neo-con and Wall Street and libertarian and other fields...all of which have borne good and healthy fruit in the past (though not all the fruit, in every season!), and all of which I appreciate and embrace as part of the conservative fold, but none of which truly feels like home to me."

Patrick J. Mullins

I fail to find anything utopian, and certainly not open about systems of totalitarianism such as Stalin's that were closed. I thought utopias were supposed to at least consist of something more than suppressed individual freedoms and slaughterhouses. I had never thought of a utopia as an obvious police state. In that case, the vast slaughters of Mao and Stalin are as nothing to the fact that at least some people have always been able to make something of their own being in the U.S. The success of the welfare states of Europe does constitute a utopia which we don't see prevailing here, with Switzerland as the extreme example and where I've seen it; although the socialist aspects of the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia all are examples of something closer to what one thinks of in terms of utopia than are the USSR or the PRC or the lovely DRK. Things were so 'open' in the USSR that people were drunk all the time.

Zizek and Badiou both say this with no personal experience of living this 'open utopia.' The fact that Stalin brought total oppression that was not American-style but originated from Marxism is of historical importance once it proves that a version of it makes its citizens have something of a sense of well-being that is not under constant threat by the police. They never came anywhere near proving it while it was there, and the PRC is simply winning in the economic sphere with no freedom to speak against the government. These are the very things leftists criticize about the current capitalist regime. It is not even convincing that Stalinism's openness had much on Nazism, but it's a waste of time to bother with that with the essential internally contradictory premise that a reality of closedness is made 'open' because the original idea was 'open and utopian.' In any case, the solidarity and collective community you find in Scandinavia and Switzerland, et alia, are not matters of police enforcement. As long as there is police enforcement, as both USSR and PRC had and have, you do not have anything that does anything but enhance fear of being any kind of individual. If the individual is denied in utopias by those who say it is found there, they should easily be able to give up all individualism in a capitalist society as well.

These kinds of delicate theoretical matters are very hard


Luke, I want to think more about rights because I'm in the process of changing my mind; I'm starting to think more about rights as utopian spaces, possibilities of appeal and contestation, rather than simply mechanisms or justifications for military intervention. The problem will be that it is the utopian element that enables the militarism. Yet, at the same time, it shouldn't be the case that the militarism means that the utopian element is lost, rather one can return to the utopian to attack the militarist.

Patrick, that would be part of a response to you as well. But, I'll try to be a bit more specific. There was a temporality to Stalinist terror with the worst happening in 37-38 (as I recall). This was a kind of destructive frenzy not unlike Mao's cultural revolution.

I'll come back to more of your points later, but the idea of openness is with respect to alternatives to a global capital, to one way of organizing society.

Adam Kotsko

We were wrong: Zizek is a third way liberal.


Amish Lovelock

Yeah, Adam's right. He said the real utopia was the 90s. Tee hee.


Amish and Adam, you both are joking right? I looked at this intro, briefly, and now will print it. From first glance it looks wrong in some really important respects. I agree that Z is not a marxist in any recognizable sense, but he is also not a third way liberal; is he trapped in his political situation, yes. Who isn't? Does he claim to 'know'? No. Misreading him as a third way liberal strikes me as a reaction to him not providing the final answer, so the authors regress to the position of the dominant order. But, I've only skimmed this and may be wrong.

Adam Kotsko

Given Zizek's notorious laziness, there's a good chance that he didn't even read that intro before it was put into his little redundant collection.

Amish Lovelock

Yeah, I (we) was (were) joking. Strange that these two collections were cobbled together...


Have I awoken to a fucking new nightmare, Stalinism back in vogue?

The death and destruction of his progroms a temporary madness?

You are not this naive, are you?

I reject capitalism for the same reasons you cite, as being stifling and deadening, but surely I misread you as stating that Stalinism was a viable alternative?


The claim is not that they provide a viable alternative. The claim is that they opened up a space to think of viable alternatives, to reject capitalism, to think that another approach is possible.


Still, I don't see how Stalin opened up new possibilities for alternatives to capitalism. Lenin/Trotsky I could agree with, but Stalin drove a stake into Soviet communism that led to its slow, painful decline...

sorry for my language in the previous comment, was tired and frustrated ( by other things )


If anything his public show trials, extermination of intellectuals, persecution of Jews and forced collectivization through starvation of the farmers of the Ukraine/bread-basket region shut down all open discussion and creative expression.

Stalin's reign was one of the horrors of the 20th century...

Peter Paik

If we consult the work of Alexandre Kojeve, Stalinism = liberal capitalism, globalized: the Americans are "rich Sino-Soviets," while the "Russians and Chinese are only Americans who are still poor but are rapidly proceeding to get richer." Writing in the late 50s, AK concludes: "the 'American way of life' was the type of life specific to the post-historical period, the actual presence of the Unitd States in the World prefiguring the 'eternal present' future of all of humanity." See the famous footnote in Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. What matters for AK is the emergence of a global tyranny, whether it considers itself communist or capitalism is of secondary importance.


Stalinism was most definitely not part of an "open, utopian space." Sorry but I have to concur; if that's what Zizek really thinks, then he's naive (and irresponsible) in the extreme. Which is not either to subscribe in any simplistic way to the popular condemnation of 'Stalin' (as an all-purpose signifier) and everything that so often goes with it. But such statements are simply not useful at this point, as sovietology continues to unearth plans on par with those of Hitler in many respects, and Zizek should probably know better.


Maybe the actual open, utopian space is the one in which Zizek can suggest that Stalinism is part of an open, utopian space.

I'm joking, I think.


Maybe the actual open, utopian space is the one in which Zizek can suggest that Stalinism is part of an open, utopian space.

I'm joking, I think.


Maybe Zizek is trying to embrace the legacy, however tainted, of Stalin, rather than knee-jerkingly condemn it? That would indeed be a start, wouldn't it? But the need to unconditionally condemn, at the same time (which is not in fact a contradiction) still remains.


I guess I don't feel the need to condemn unconditionally (or split the infinitive, she adds obnoxiously). And, I wonder about 'condemnation' as some sort of entry ticket or prerequisite to discussion. Who establishes these terms and why should one accept them? Are there other condemnatory prerequisites?

I think Peter's cite to AK is really interesting: if AK is right (and he was a Soviet spy) then Stalinism could not have provided an open space in the sense of one that was an alternative to liberalism, so Z can't be right.

The theories of the administered, technologized, totalized society prominent in the sixties and early seventies (and I would link these theories to the attack on and demise of the welfare state and so read their emphases on freedom and expression as ultimately individualistic and libertarian in the worse sorts of ways) saw the US and the USSR as two manifestations of the same phenomenon--bureaucracy. They share, it seems to me, some of AK's assumptions.

In some ways, Z writes in this tradition, but he wants to anchor the problem in capitalism, so as to maintain an essential difference. Stalinism is the symptom of capitalism. As symptom, Stalinism can turn the capitalist fantasy of productivity into a hideous nightmare even as it holds open a utopian outside at the same time, namely, productivity without capitalism. This takes us away from AK, it seems to me.

The worst dimensions of the Stalinist terror were targeted at the nomenklatura and then the army. The elimination of kulaks as a class, forced collectivization, strikes me as a different sort of terror, one that, however terrifying, still has a kind a revolutionary justification. The horrors of the self-destruction of the party amplify this logic as every possible error or fear becomes a failure of revolution and the party and so must be eliminated. The 'doctors plot' which involved mobilized anti-semitism, didn't get off the ground. Stalin died.

I don't accept the term 'extermination of the intellectuals' insofar as there were all sorts of different ways that intellectuals reacted to and were appropriated by the system. Zizek mentions work on the early twenties (I studied some of it in Soviet art) that sees Prolitcult and the other early art movements as more restrictive and demanding even than socialist realism.

Finally, work by Soviet historians Sheila Fitzpatrick and Lynn Viola is excellent at looking at "everyday stalinism" and the kinds of consumption and life it attempted to model and produce.

In sum, I think it is vital to recognize the 'everydayness' of Stalinism (as in Nazism). Part of the horror of these regimes is that they weren't only oppressive. Some people enjoyed them. Some people benefitted from them. Some people endorsed them. Finding alternatives to capital that avoid the horrors of fascism and stalinism requires understanding what was appealing in them, figuring out how to avoid the horrifying dimensions of this appeal, and figuring out how to produce and mobilize an appeal that is not ultimately genocidal.


Jodi, absolutely. And I agree Fitzpatrick is great in her approach.

But there is still a need to unconditionally condemn. And in no way does this preclude a more nuanced analysis. I insist.


OK--I agree that it doesn't preclude a nuanced analysis. Fair point. But, what happens if I just say, nope! That is, what happens if I (or one) insist as well? I say it this way (in a sense wondering if you are joking a bit or making your point in a humorous way) to highlight the power play in the "I insist," that is, in the 'need' to condemn. It's certainly possible that one may not recognize this need, may reject this need, may challenge the terms that condition the perception of this need etc.

Another angle: one can say that discussion requires rules; I can't discuss anything with one who doesn't recognize women as fully rational; so, I couldn't talk with Aristotle or Kant. Do I condemn them? Do I appeal to rights etc and try to persuade them? It seems in this case that what is at stake is the possibility of argument, discussion. I don't see how 'unconditional condemnation' functions as a similar prerequisite for discussion.


I'm sure it doesn't. My point wasn't to say whether discussion was possible or not. After all, the very fact of my presence should speak to a basic good faith in that, no? As far as that may be called a "rule," I happen to think it is not unimportant. But you're right insofar as the, "I insist" speaks in an uncompromising manner.

When it comes to Stalinism generally (considering also a certain historical context, and as it relates to Nazism in particular), I happen to think this condemnation is called for, if one is to be responsible. And this *duty* to condemn, unconditionally, should not be taken lightly.

I should clarify maybe and say I don't think this "unconditional condemnation" is at all a prerequisite for discussion, but speaking loosely, insofar as many discussions--generally, commonly--begin *and end* with this (for lack of a better word) "moral word"--it is therefore useful and often necessary to point out how it isn't mutually exclusive with more nuanced analysis. That was my main point.

In this regard some of JD's statements after what is commonly (again, primarily by those who take this duty too lightly) cited as, "9/11" --also come to mind:



Finally, I must insist on the need to split my infinitives.


I introduced the discussion stuff as a way to try to understand the status of condemnation. And, if I've understood, you are now suggesting that it is a kind of rule, a rule associated with responsibility. So, a 'responsible' discussant is one who carries out the duty of condemnation. In fact, precisely because the duty is not to be taken lightly, carrying it out is a mark of responsibility, the mark of responsibility, perhaps. And, maybe it is such a mark because it demonstrates a kind of responsiveness, a responding to the past necessary for discussion in the present, so that one knows that present discussion is responsiveness.

But, if responsiveness to the past is important to responsibility and marks the responsibility of one willing to engage in argument and discussion in good faith, why must this responsiveness be demonstrated through condemnation? For it seems that there are other ways to respond, particularly to the past. One might respond by mourning, mourning those who died or mourning the lost opportunities. One might respond by trying to recapture the hopes or causes or intentions that were part of the past.

All these responses, it seems to me, point away from some kind of duty of condemnation as a sign of responsibility.

Marc Lombardo

Dewey is impeccably clear on this matter--the past is not a matter of moral considerations, but rather of physical ones. The moral is only properly called into play as far as future action is concerned.

Considering this, I think it would make sense to condemn Stalinism outright if such a thing was proposed as a future political objective, and in fact I think we can all agree to do so. But to START our critical examination of the physical facts of the past with a moral condemnation is to begin on the wrong foot!

Marc Lombardo

And more to the point, if what we're really concerned about morally, is preventing ourselves from falling into Stalinism in the future, how could we do that if not by first forging something of a morally unbiased account of how Stalinism actually existed in the first place?


I agree strongly with Marc here.

The problem with condemnation after-the-fact is that is means very little.

Condemnation is fine when something is happening - there is context and the act can be seen in that light. To perform historical analysis, you need to provide context - then your moral pronouncements have some weight. For example, condemning Nazism today is posturing - the act has little moral power.

I think Z's point is that we have loads of historical context for Nazism - Nazism was a success - it accomplished what it set out to *really* do (which was not the commonplace idea: to take over the world).

We have no context for Stalinism - we don't have the history for a variety of reasons. So we need a theory of Stalinism - not a positive theory, but a way to understand the failure of Stalinism. Condemnation does accomplish one thing - a way to avoid this hard work, to understand the failure of this first real attempt at socialism. Equating Nazism and Stalinism is an attempt to frustrate this necessary work.


There is plenty of context for Stalinism, and more every year.

I specifically did not say "moral" condemnation. Why must unconditional condemnation be moral? I'm fairly certain Derrida didn't mean that when he said there was a need to condemn "9/11" and pause, contextualize and analyze all at once, and that these weren't mutually exclusive. That is, the condemnation isn't related to the conditions of possibility for discussion. Responsibility cannot be reduced to a formulaic "rule."

"Condemnation is fine when something is happening"

Isn't the common discourse surrounding, continually redefining the 'event'--that which one must always combat and nuance (as a matter of responsibility, not morality, or "rules")--something that is still "happening"? As for Dewey, if only it were that simple, to separate the future from the past, and always be certain which it is at stake!

Jodi, sure there are other ways to respond. Mourning is hard and necessary work, however impossible it may in fact be.

Maybe I'm being baited/baiting myself a bit here into defending something that's gotten a pretty bad rap generally. Condemnation, as it is popularly known--and it is rather popular if not the casual and lazy zeitgeist these days--often seems to imply a premature or even naive foreclosure on interpreting events. I do not mean this shallow sense of the word. I mean something more genuinely earned and uncompromising, the kind of unconditional and uncompromising that can only come from holding oneself entirely open at first, and going through (such as may ever be possible--in an imperfect and archival manner, needless to say) the experiences of the past. So it's a sense of condemnation racked by contradiction, never certain, one that comes from its opposite so to speak. But that is nevertheless uncompromising, in a certain, profoundly disquieted sense. I think Adorno, and so many of those writers after the Holocaust, are not entirely removed, in their despair and seriousness about this specific sense of 'condemnation', from a necessary analysis of the worst excesses of Stalinism. That said, I would not of course merely equate the two.
And yet...for anyone who has read the Gulag Archipelago, Applebaum, etc. How could they not but pause, and hesitate, before ever claiming, or risking the appearance of claiming (for provocative effect, say) an overly facile distinction (admittedly, this is another matter).

Perhaps that isn't very clear. Oh well.

Marc Lombardo

First, condemnation: to reiterate I see no value for it other than as a guide for future action. I think this is exactly the sense in which Derrida was condemning 9-11... what we mean when we say he condemned it was that he was against encouraging acts like 9-11 to take place in the future. But of course, he could do this only because he had some idea of what the event of 9-11 was (and see his Scottish epistemological account of this in Philosophy in a Time of Terror).

Second, past and future: while you may be correct metaphysically, that these are hard to tease apart, nevertheless it is possible (and essential) to do this operationally. So for example: the past of Stalinism IS the physical account of it, and the future, the moral account. Operationally, we must start with the past (experience) and analyze this until it leads us to an idea about this past, which in turn will serve as a guide for future action: this is the way that inquiry proceeds.


I'm thrilled to be "correct metaphysically."

What on earth do you mean.

Why "Scottish"? And yes, it's always about the future.

Even when it's starting with the past, it's about the future. This is the way my comment proceeds.


Matt: If you mean criticism when you said condemnation, that's fine, whatever.

My understanding of the term "condemnation" is that is DOES foreclose further discussion, it is a statement that X is wrong, any further explanation is a waste of time.

If you are interested in persuing "sense of condemnation racked by contradiction, never certain...", I'm not sure what that is, I don't know of a condemnation that isn't certain.

What on earth do you mean?


PE Bird, that's a good point. Maybe I was too quick to concede that condemnation doesn't foreclose discussion. (Flip flop, flip flop). If a condemnation is thoughtful, then in comes after something like deliberation, reflection, etc. It would then be the end of reflection on that matter. Or would it?

What if after condemnation there is something else, like sentencing? Like, we have condemned, but now what do we do? Ask for an apology? Close the door to the history? Hang someone? Find the proper locus for blame? So, maybe condemnation does not close off everything and maybe part of the problem is in what it opens.


hi Jodi,

I don't know either Zizek or Badiou very well, can you point me to where these comments occur? I'd quite like to read them.

It's been a long time so I can't recall all the nuances of the argument, but I'm partial to the account of the USSR as a form of capitalism. That it may have had a different and utopian meaning in other contexts is probably irrefutable. This utopia was not wholly innocent, though. It was a field of conflict (the Spanish Civil War is just one case in point) nor was (is) it the only mobilizing myth available.

take care,


Hi Nate, thanks for your comments; I think this comes from Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism, chap. 3

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