Sunday, 20 May 2012

my two bits

As there was some interest in Berlin's essay on Sorel, I am reproducing some passages from it below (from 'Against the Current'). It was written in1971, expanded in 1974:

The weapon of the workers is violence. Although it gives its name to Sorel's best known work, its nature is never made clear. Class conflict is the normal condition of society, and force is continuously exerted against the producers, that is, the workers, by the exploiters.Force does not necessarily consist in open coercion, but in control and repression by means of institutions which, whether by design or not, have the effect, as Marx and his disciples have made clear, of promoting the power of the possessing class. this pressure must be resisted. To resist force by force is likely to result, as in the case of the Jacobin revolution, in the replacing of one yoke by another, the substitution of new masters by old. A Blanquist putsch could lead to more coercion by the state -- the dictatorship of the proletariat, perhaps of its own representatives, as the successor of the dictatorship of the capitalists... Force, by definition, represses; violence, directed against it, liberates. Only by instilling fear in the capitalists can the workers break their power, the force exerted against them. 321-22
This, indeed, is the function of proletarian violence: not aggression, but resistance. Violence is the striking off of chains, the prelude to regeneration... renewal of life, rejuvenation, the liberation of creative powers [etc]
How the use of power in practice can be distinguished from the use of force is never made clear. it is merely postulated as the only alernative to peaceful negotiation which, by presupposing a common good, common to workers and employers alike, denies the reality of class war. ..322
Does violence mean more than this? Does it mean occupation of factories, the seizing of power, physical clashes with police or other agents of the possessing class, the shedding of blood? Sorel remains unclear... Anything that increases militancy but does not lead to the formation of power structures among workers themselves, is approved. The distinction between force and violence appears to depend entirely on the character of its function and motive. Force imposes chains, violence breaks them. Force, open or concealed, enslaves, violence, always open, makes free. These are moral and metaphysical, not empirical concepts. Sorel is a moralist and his values are rooted in one of the oldest of human traditions. 322-23

After reading Christos's post and looking at a little bit of Zizek's 'Violence', I wonder if we can call Zizek (or anyone else) a Sorelian moralist? Supposing we can, is it fair to say that the violence-menu the Sorelian moralist is limited to:

1-- 'a truly Gandhian level of non-violence' (215) in which 'abstention goes further than intra-political negation, the vote of no confidence: it rejects the very frame of reference' (216). This Zizek says is more-violent-than-violence violence. 'If one means by violence a radical upheaval of the basic social relations' ...[then] sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do' (217) (and we never read Gandhi...)
2-- the radical upheaval: 'the emancipatory dimension of the category of divine violence' (204); this is: 'when those outside the structured social field strike 'blindly', demanding and enacting immediate justice/vengeance [It's hard not to insert an exclamation mark here]. Recall, a decade or so ago, the panic in Rio de Jeneiro when crowds descended from the favelas to the rich part of the city and started burning and looting supermarkets. This indeed was divine violence' (202). This divine violence is not 'merely' subjective but 'its status is radically subjective, it is the subject's work of love' (203). What is the difference between the radically and the merely subjective violence? Zizek quotes Che Guevera. It seems that the feeling of love that marks radical subjectivity is that which guides the true revolutionary -- and the true revolutionary is he who exhibits the aforementioned radical subjectivity (circular definition). 'To paraphrase Roberspierre and Kant: love without cruelty is powerless, cruelty without love is blind, a shortlived passion with no persistent edge. The underlying paradox is that which...elevates love over mere pathetic and unstable sentimentality is its cruelty itself, its link with violence' (204). Note that 'those outside the structured social field' and cruelty are both blind when divine violence/love make them 'strike'. When violence is divine, the mob's blindness is radical sight. 'Sometimes [presumably when divine violence is involved] hatred is the only proof that I really love you' (204) -- and, by implication, a blind strike at the supermarkets the only proof that divine violence exists.
Love advice for the philosophical? 

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