“There is no return to normal, the new ‘normal’ will have to be constructed on the ruins of our old lives, or we will find ourselves in a new barbarism whose signs are already clearly discernible.”
Thus writes the Slovenian philosophical “rock star” Slavoj Žižek in his quick and dirty little book, entitled PANdemIC!: Covid-19 Shakes the World and made available for readers within just weeks after the start of the spread of the Covid-19 virus beyond China. (12)
The economic shortfalls and social dislocations of the pandemic, Žižek writes, will “compel us to re-invent Communism based on trust in the people and in science.”(46-7) Communism with a New Yorker magazine face!
At the same time, Žižek seems to fear that instead of such a smily-faced “communism” might not turn out to prevail in a post-Covid world. Instead we are just as likely to experience “barbarism with a human face—ruthless survivalist measures enforced with regret and even sympathy, but legitimized by expert opinions”.(96) Further on in his meandering, little tractate, however, Žižek makes it clear that what he is calling “communism” is really nothing more or less “simply as a name for what is already going on (or at least perceived by many as a necessity), measures which are already being considered and even partially enforced” – in other words, city-wide lockdowns, closures of restaurants, demands for “social distancing,” and so forth.
With typical demurral Žižek admits: “It’s not a vision of a bright future but more one of ‘disaster Communism’ as an antidote to disaster capitalism. Not only should the state assume a much more active role, organizing the production of urgently needed things like masks, test kits and respirators, sequestering hotels and other resorts, guaranteeing the minimum of survival of all new unemployed, and so on, doing all of this by abandoning market mechanisms.”(116)
If the new “disaster communism” that Žižek sees as facing its own summons to manage the world after the presumed collapse of the neoliberal world order following the viral onslaught were to be worthy of its name, it would have had a distinctive plan for the dissolution of the asset-holding classes. Instead, the asset-holders have become even more entrenched, while what was left of the working class became truly (in Marx’s famous phrasing)“immiserated.”
Of course, we have already witnessed from the late twentieth century onward a unique kind of “zoonostic” transfer of the chromosomic material of” disaster capitalism” to the genomes of what was supposed to be the purest form of communism itself – Chinese Maoism.
The point is that at some point – which may be much sooner than one anticipates – a certain politico-theological pseudo-Trinitarian homoousiosis of “disaster capitalism,” “disaster communism”, and smiling neoliberal barbarism may become the preferred political strategy for the urban, cosmopolitan political elites who desperately want to hold on to their capital assets while the real workers starve but the planet cools down.
Via THE NEW POLIS