Via Lenin’s Tomb, I came across this article by Slavoj Zizek, about how to re-think Marxism, where do we go now, etc. Standard stuff. A lot of the discussion is about Lenin (the real one, not the entombed) and some of the things he said, but the substance comes towards the end, where it is suggested that, responding to the disappointing failure of the proletariat to bring about socialism, we should relocate our focus onto the tension between ‘the excluded’ and ‘the included’.
Who are these excluded and included? As far as I can tell, it’s what Zizek calls “new forms of social apartheid—new walls and slums.” So slum-dwellers, immigrants, and the various ‘unrepresented’ indigenous or marginalised peoples of the world seem to be intended. And this issue of ‘exclusion’ seems to be supposed to inform and influence lots of other issues, like climate change and control of software.
What’s problematic is that Zizek, while admitting that “the predominant liberal notion of democracy also deals with those excluded”, leaves it somewhat unclear as to what differentiates the his concern with the excluded from liberalism. “The obsession of [representaitve liberal democracy] is the protection of all kinds of minorities: cultural, religious, sexual, etc..What gets lost in this is the position of universality embodied in the excluded.” But in what concrete way is this ‘position of universality’ to be preserved?
The not-yet-dead Lenin comments that (among other criticisms) points out that it’s very dubious that “one’s being in some sense ‘excluded’ [is] a sufficient basis for unity…Does my being potentially alienated from my genetic code necessarily make me a likely ally of Palestinians being expropriated and shoved behind an apartheid wall? Or would the experience of having one’s immaterial labour capitalised by New York University press or The Guardian make one a lifelong opponent of immigration controls?”
What it comes down to is that exclusion is, far from being, as Zizek seems to present it, a ‘new form of proletarianisation’, the precise opposite of the traditional rationale for seeing the proletariat as the revolutionary subject. The distinctive feature of the proletariat was supposedly that simultaneously with being ‘excluded’ from property, it was included as the necessary basis of capitalist production. It was, in fact, included in the economic process precisely on the basis of its exclusion, i.e. it’s propertylessness, and consequent preparedness to work for wages.
This is not necessarily something that can only be said to apply to economic classes. For example, a radical feminist, might argue in a similar way about the potentially revolutionary nature of the women’s: women, despite being largely excluded from power, status, and wealth, are profoundly included in the sex-system – their ‘attractively feminine’ disempowerment is the necessary condition of ‘healthy masculinity’, which is imperilled if ‘women stop being women’.
What’s important to stress though is that this radical feminist position is quite different from a more typically liberal feminist one, which bears more of a resemblance of the ‘exclusion vs. inclusion’ paradigm: for liberal feminists, the goal is not to undermine or subvert, e.g., the capitalist economy or the state, but to ensure that they are staffed by equal numbers of men and women. Women are seen simply as excluded, and the goal is for them to be included. Whereas the radical sees women as included-as-excluded, and seeks to dismantle the system in which they play this role, using the power they have as an integral part of that system.
This, I’d say, could be called a ‘class analysis’, though one based on ‘sex classes’ rather than ‘economic classes’ – because it indentifies a class-system, which both oppresses a group while also depending on that group. I don’t think Zizek wants to present the ‘excluded’ as fighting simply for ‘inclusion’ (which is obviously not a very radical goal), but it’s not clear to me what he does present, and it doesn’t look like what I would call a ‘class analysis’,
Lenin says that in liberal democracy, it is seen that “the business of politics is about enabling everyone to take part, and play the game.” Class analysis inverts this: the business of class struggle is that those who are already playing the game, and who the game depends on to keep being played, try to stop playing.