Blog post

Occupy first, make demands later—Slavoj Žižek

Tamar Shlaim27 October 2011

Slavoj Žižek writes in the Guardian on the Occupy movement, its taboo-breaking nature, and why hard and patient work is now required.

Carnivals come cheap - the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. The protesters should fall in love with hard and patient work - they are the beginning, not the end. Their basic message is: the taboo is broken; we do not live in the best possible world; we are allowed, obliged even, to think about alternatives.

He goes on to respond to some of the criticisms of the Occupy protests: 

Are the protesters violent? True, their very language may appear violent (occupation, and so on), but they are violent only in the sense in which Mahatma Gandhi was violent. They are violent because they want to put a stop to the way things are - but what is this violence compared with the violence needed to sustain the smooth functioning of the global capitalist system?

They are called losers - but are the true losers not there on Wall Street, who received massive bailouts? They are called socialists - but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They are accused of not respecting private property - but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if the protesters were to be destroying it night and day - just think of thousands of homes repossessed.

They are not communists, if communism means the system that deservedly collapsed in 1990 - and remember that communists who are still in power run today the most ruthless capitalism. The success of Chinese communist-run capitalism is an ominous sign that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is approaching a divorce. The only sense in which the protesters are communists is that they care for the commons - the commons of nature, of knowledge - which are threatened by the system.

They are dismissed as dreamers, but the true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. They are not dreamers; they are the awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare. They are not destroying anything, but reacting to how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice but goes on walking; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. The protesters are just reminding those in power to look down.

Finally, Žižek asserts the importance of silence: 

What one should always bear in mind is that any debate here and now necessarily remains a debate on enemy's turf; time is needed to deploy the new content. All we say now can be taken from us - everything except our silence. This silence, this rejection of dialogue, of all forms of clinching, is our "terror", ominous and threatening as it should be.

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