Some ten years ago, Slavoj Žižek popularized the simplified paraphrasing of the quote from Antonio Gramsci’s “Prison Notebooks” that goes as follows: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”Now, almost a century later, we are struggling against the same “morbid symptoms” this Italian thinker wrote about back then: fascism, the flag of which became Vlasov’s tricolor; various imperialisms which deny agency to the “small nations”; and capital, which has no values other than the maximizing of profits.
Originally published by Nihilist.
O resilient old world!
But, despite the very same antagonists, the times have changed, and the “old” refuses to die. Despite the rigidity at its core, it has learned to be flexible and developed its own cynical plasticity. Fascism is being bolstered by the cries for “denazification”, capital is polluting the information space with rampant greenwashing, and Western “anti-imperialists” are arming themselves with westsplaining (a description of the realities of the world solely through the prism of Western Europe) as the key theoretical framework. The flexibility and adaptivity of the hegemony are making it difficult to build resistance and envision the new order, the new humanity.
So even right now, as history is shaking and vibrating, we cannot say that the old is dying, but neither the new is able to be born. The current “status quo” is not a dying old tsar, but rather the body sewn from the clothes that went through necrosis long ago and implants that simulate the signs of life, i.e. what once were the progressive ideas, integrated by the reactionary ideology. It’s these Frankensteins of modernity that are Russian “anti-fascism”, Chinese “socialism”, capitalism “with a human face”.
But even though the abhorred reactionary ideologies refuse to die, the large-scale Russian invasion and the impressive Ukrainian resistance have become historic events. Events that remind us of the vitality of history, its plasticity that any one of us can influence. Vitality and plurality of actors are two inseparable features of the Ukrainian resistance, since besides the vertical command structure, helmed by a strong leader, it is being nourished by the sophisticated grassroots networks. Volunteer fighters, millions of volunteers within and outside of Ukraine, thousands of cyber-activists.
Ukrainians, like a chaotic, self-organized hive, stimulated by the historical significance of the moment and the smell of the enemy’s blood, are building active resistance to the “second strongest army in the world”. The collective struggle against the major threat turns an insignificant individual into the author of a historical event, and the history itself loses its rigidity, no longer seeming like the fatality of a “status-quo”.
It’s the individual and collective realization of history’s plasticity, and the ability to influence it, that lies at the core of politics of modernity. The age before the crisis of “grand ideas”, during which the thought of the necessity of the radical restructuring of the social order was still obvious. The modern period has ended with a series of catastrophes, materializing in the fascist and the Bolshevik regimes in Eurasia and formation of foundations of capitalist society in America. But if we diagnose the contemporary world with the need for deep transformations, we need the decisiveness of modernity to implement them.
And it’s the very rigidity of the history and the impossibility of productively envisioning the alternative that are the signs of non-modern politics. This applies to both pre-modern times when revolutionary transformations weren’t possible, and the post-modern times, with their crisis of the “grand ideas” and the myth of the “end of history”, the belief that our cultures can no longer form the radically new social orders.
The right-wing “pragmatist” and the left-wing demagogue at the Order’s vanguard
The crux of the current Western political crisis can be illustrated by two exemplary characters for the state of the European politics we’re in. We are interested not in their characters, but rather the archetypes of the modern Western politics that they embody.
One of them is Yanis Varoufakis, leader of the leftist international Diem25 and the author of the concept of “techno-feudalism.” Through this concept, Varoufakis describes the transformations of late capitalism, above all the final stage of alienation of the world of finance from the real economy. Varoufakis finds that post-modern capitalism can transform into a new form of feudalism just as organically as feudalism once transformed into capitalism.
Although he does not express that in his article, in the possibility of such a transition we find the link between the pre-modern and the post-modern, the possibility of a transformation between the two that’s not mediated by modernity. Varoufakis laments that capitalism ends “not with a revolutionary bang, but with an evolutionary whimper,” but there cannot be a revolutionary bang without the modern readiness to shape the world in opposition to reactionary resistance.
What’s most interesting, however, is that Varoufakis is also the product of non-modern thinking, which can be seen in his views regarding Ukraine, where he demonstrates his impotent confusion in the labyrinth of nuances related to the factors of NATO and Azov, his inability to demonstrate the decisiveness in his judgments of the Ukrainian anti-imperialist struggle. Such vulgarized “criticism” and the white noise of secondary nuances do not let him see the simple unambiguity of the reality of Russian fascism and Ukrainian resistance.
The other one is Christian Lindner, the Minister of Finance of Germany and the leader of the right-liberal FDP. Lindner is currently one of the most influential defenders of Big Capital amongst the European politicians. During the first day of the war, according to the Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, Lindner has shown his considerable skepticism regarding the prospects of giving the weapons to Ukraine, as according to him, our country does not have a chance in the war against Russia. Notwithstanding his misjudgment, it was the right-wing “pragmatism” at its purest, one with which the representatives of this ideological camp usually defend the “status-quo”.
In such “pragmatic” responses to the calls of reality, we observe how the ordinary petty-bourgeois conformism ends up as the most widespread contemporary ideology. Linder’s seconds-long trembling against the authority of “Russian weaponry” (as he changed his mind immediately as the strength of the Ukrainian resistance became apparent) is of the same nature as his ideological service towards the Big Capital, the empire of profit that must take upon itself the responsibility for the structuring of reality.
Thus, we have two figures at the vanguard of the “status-quo”: the right-wing “pragmatist” and the left-wing demagogue. One of whom reduces the diversity of politics to the “technocracy” beneficial to capital, and the other one readying up to coexist with the neo-fascist Russia as he stumbles in the nuances of his own demagogy.
Modern Ukraine, arrogant and inconvenient
And now we come back again to the question of the meaning of the Russo-Ukrainian war for the revolutionary hopes on a global scale. As we see from the examples of two archetypical figures of post-modern politics, both of them severely lack the modern vitality or at least the situational obviousness of an answer to the eternal question: “what is to be done?”
Although Ukrainian political discourse has weak theoretical foundations (let us not forget that during peacetime the theoretical luminaries were still the national-democratic “intellectuals”), for the second time in the last decade we can see the unique synthesis of vital passion and effective self-organization in Ukraine. In spite of the theoretical richness of Western politics, there such a synthesis is left to the fantasies of small groups of idealists.
Therefore, neither the Russian invasion, vulgar in terms of its brutality, nor the brave modernist Ukrainian resistance add up to the “normality” of the contemporary West. Ukraine is becoming the disruptor of a status quo. Largely, it is related to the geopolitical and military domination of the Russian Federation. But there is also a part related to the post-modern conformism of the West.
And we, as the disruptors, should not be afraid to be uncomfortable. Those who mumbled “never again” for all these years have let this “again” happen right before their eyes. This is yet another proof that there is something wrong with the political landscape of today. And our new Ukrainian Modernity, birthed in torment, out of the vitality of action and effective self-organizing, should state that to the whole world as audaciously as possible. This Ukrainian Modernity, with its arrogant youthful voice, must assert the need to end the rule of imperialists and hucksters alike. This voice must be so loud and clear that even the “pragmatists” and demagogues understand that the fatalism of the choice between capitalism and techno-feudalism is not for us if our eyes are burning with passion, and our minds are blistering with ideas.
Translation: Marko Karpo