The hordes descending on UK cities to defend statues over the weekend have been laughable, even if their actions are telling.
As tweeted earlier, the argument that the Right have been peddling — that our nation’s old statues, installed by past generations, depicting slavers and the like, should stay up despite the current climate because they educate people — has been spectacularly undermined, as the statues’ defenders turn out to be the stupidest people around.
This all happened mere hours after Boris Johnson himself regurgitated the educational argument in an official statement.
He was immediately made to look like an idiot, as the All Lives Matter counter-protesters went on to attack police and damage property with far more wanton abandon than any of those people Johnson was denouncing.
Who are the “mindless thugs”, really? Those seeking to illuminate the more maligned periods of our history through focused civil action? Or a throng of galaxy-brained counter-protesters who have wrought more violence on the police than those actually campaigning for their abolition?
For all the calls to execute that kid who climbed the cenotaph last week, here we’ve got footage of someone pissing against a memorial to PC Keith Palmer.
Meanwhile, up the road, counter-protesters greet that same cenotaph with Nazi salutes — a cenotaph that had previously been “defaced” by little more than the presence of Black bodies in its vicinity.
Saturday was a fascist’s wet dream, as they got off on punching police and collectively pissing in the doorway of a branch of Boots.
It’s hard to make sense of such abject idiocy, but all we see here is the brainrot that occurs when you’re overcome by ideology. Of course the heinous crime of attacking statues — which are representative of ideology in the most implicit and pernicious fashion — has to be combated with a vibrant demonstration of the strength of ideological capture.
It makes no sense whatsoever from any viewpoint outside of this capture, but I hope it only helps to embolden those who’ve already been protesting these past few weeks, in affirming their distance from that strange mental enclosure.
The somnambulist action of these idiots reminded of this extended passage from Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology, in which he digs below this sort of mindlessness, that hides its lack of logic under a thin veil of inconsistent principles (please excuse Žižek’s usual edgelording):
…for Lacan, the only point at which we approach this hard kernel of the Real is indeed the dream. When we awaken into reality after a dream, we usually say to ourselves ‘it was just a dream’, thereby blinding ourselves to the fact that in our everyday, wakening reality we are nothing but a consciousness of this dream. It was only in the dream that we approached the fantasy framework which determines our activity, our mode of acting in reality itself.
It is the same with the ideological dream, with the determination of ideology as a dreamlike construction hindering us from seeing the real state of things, reality as such. In vain do we try to break out of the ideological dream by ‘opening our eyes and trying to see reality as it is’, by throwing away the ideological spectacles: as the subjects of such a post-ideological, objective, sober look, free of so-called ideological prejudices, as the subjects of a look which views the facts as they are, we remain throughout ‘the consciousness of our ideological dream’. The only way to break the power of our ideological dream is to confront the Real of our desire which announces itself in this dream.
Let us examine anti-Semitism. It is not enough to say that we must liberate ourselves from so-called ‘anti-Semitic prejudices’ and learn to see Jews as they really are — in this way we will certainly remain victims of these so-called prejudices. We must confront ourselves with how the ideological figure of the ‘Jew’ is invested with our unconscious desire, with how we have constructed this figure to escape a certain deadlock of our desire.
Let us suppose, for example, that an objective look would confirm — why not? — that Jews really do financially exploit the rest of the population, that they do sometimes seduce our young daughters, that some of them do not wash regularly. Is it not clear that this has nothing to do with the real roots of our anti-Semitism? Here, we have only to remember the Lacanian proposition concerning the pathologically jealous husband: even if all the facts he quotes in support of his jealousy are true, even if his wife really is sleeping around with other men, this does not change one bit the fact that his jealousy is a pathological, paranoid construction.
Let us ask ourselves a simple question: in the Germany of the late 1930s, what would be the result of such a non-ideological, objective approach? Probably something like: ‘The Nazis are condemning the Jews too hastily, without proper argument, so let us take a cool, sober look and see if they are really guilty or not; let us see if there is some truth in the accusations against them.’ Is it really necessary to add that such an approach would merely confirm our so-called ‘unconscious prejudices’ with additional rationalizations? The proper answer to anti-Semitism is therefore not ‘Jews are really not like that’ but ‘the anti-Semitic idea ofJew has nothing to do with Jews; the ideological figure of a Jew is a way to stitch up the inconsistency of our own ideological system.’
Does this not capture almost every media talking point from the last two weeks?
These thugs are tearing down these statues too hastily, casting judgement upon them too readily; we must debate and take a sober look at the pictorial legacy of the slave trade in our society.
In response, the Major of London’s office erects hoardings around the cenotaph and Winston Churchill. To protect them? Or to make them disappear, once again, in plain sight?
This is something that Mark Fisher used to say a lot, particularly within the context of capitalist realism. The first move of any hegemonic ideology is to deny its own existence. It is when ideology becomes indistinguishable from reality that ideology has won. How telling that, once the ideological statues of our city centres lose their cloak of invisibility, they must be covered up with actual cloaks. The result? An intensification of ideological demonstrations to counter the removal of ideology from plain sight — but the demonstrators as a mindless as the stone from which the statues are made.
That’s not just an insult aimed at their lack of intelligence. It encapsulates the very calcifying process of ideology. As Lukács argues in History & Class Consciousness: ideology — and, indeed, history itself, as the backbone of ideology — reifies and turns to stone the subjects most firmly in its grasp:
History is no longer an enigmatic flux to which men and things are subjected. It is no longer a thing to be explained by the intervention of transcendental powers or made meaningful by reference to transcendental values. History is, on the one hand, the product (albeit the unconscious one) of man’s own activity, on the other hand it is the succession of those processes in which the forms taken by this activity and the relations of man to himself (to nature, to other men) are overthrown. So that if … the categories describing the structure of a social system are not immediately historical, i.e. if the empirical succession of historical events does not suffice to explain the origins of a particular form of thought or existence, then it can be said that despite this, or better, because of it, any such conceptual system will describe in its totality a definite stage in the society as a whole.
“History” itself — the illusion of history — is precisely the dream from which these ahistorical thugs cannot wake.
[T]he nature of history is precisely that every definition degenerates into an illusion: history is the history of the unceasing overthrow of the objective forms that shape the life of man. It is therefore not possible to reach an understanding of particular forms by studying their successive appearances in an empirical and historical manner. This is not because they transcend history, though this is and must be the bourgeois view with its addiction to thinking about isolated ‘facts’ in isolated mental categories. The truth is rather that these particular forms are not immediately connected with each other either by their simultaneity or by their consecutiveness. What connects them is their place and function in the totality and by rejecting the idea of a ‘purely historical’ explanation the notion of history as a universal discipline is brought nearer.
The far-right understanding of history is a bourgeois fairy tale — it tells them of nothing more than their own success. (This is most tragic for a newly maligned stereotype of the white working class man, who identifies more with his oppressor: a gaslit subject whose Stockholm Syndrome has been goaded for years by the far-right populists of recent years.) After all, ask yourself: Why do so many politicians end up writing their own history books? (Lest we forget that Boris Johnson wrote his own biography of Churchill.) Lukács has the answers.
This is why the distinction between the tearing down of statues as history becoming itself and history being destroyed are important. History is only fixed if we are fixed. We become reified as our histories are reified. For Lukács:
Reification is, then, the necessary, immediate reality of every person living in capitalist society. It can be overcome only by constant and constantly renewed efforts to disrupt the reified structure of existence by concretely relating to the concretely manifested contradictions of the total development, by becoming conscious of the immanent meanings of these contradictions for the total development.
This is partly why this moment is so interesting and, indeed, why the Black Lives Matter protests are the closest we have come to any truly accelerationist action in decades.
We have seen the ideology of capitalist realism wane among the (broadly) working classes — that is, among those who work — but, since capitalists make all the decisions, little change has come about. This is the crisis of the negative, and it is a crisis felt most impotently by whites — they lack the “standpoint” (as Lukács would call it) of the truly oppressed. This is why change is occurring only following an attack on the statues that represent a truth still too hideous for an ideological hegemony to compute — that we built this nation on the backs of slaves.
“Nothing has ever denied of its contradictions” is a line uttered many times around this blog, and it is most often used to denounce a far-right accelerationism that thinks chaos alone can change the world. But we might look upon that statement a little more closely. Why is that the case, at least in their case? Because ideological systems of oppression generally tend to hide their contradictions. Far-right accelerationists thinking that, by committing acts of terror, they can help trigger a race war and set the contradictions lose demonstrates an ignorance as to their position in the social hierarchy.
For example, “Tfw no gf” is not a standpoint. The fury of incels and anons doesn’t hold much water because, in the grand scheme of things, no one is surprised when a white man mass-murderers a load of minorities. We’ve been watching that occur for centuries. That is the tactic that secured the system in which we live.
Because they fail to see this, they fail to see the system in its totality and so have no chance of changing it; they only see the superficial “immediacy” of their situation — with “immediacy” being Lukács’ term for that which is mistakenly and superficially given a privileged position within our self-consciousness because it is “given” to us most immediately in experience. (“Tfw no gf” becomes the perfect encapsulation of such a false standpoint since it precisely skewers that which the disenfranchised subject is immediately lacking: a girlfriend becomes the all-or-nothing focus over any more nuanced analysis of what Žižek called their “deadlock of desire”; you don’t hate your lack of a girlfriend, you hate your lack of a life under capitalism.)
Lukács, in his more explicit Hegelian-Marxism, makes a point in orbit of this that is useful for us if we hope to separate more clearly the contagious consciousness-raising of the Black Lives Matter movement from the contagious mindlessness of ideological thuggery. He writes that
the growing class consciousness that has been brought into being through the awareness of a common situation and common interests is by no means confined to the working class. The unique element in its situation is that its surpassing of immediacy represents an aspiration towards society in its totality regardless of whether this aspiration remains conscious or whether it remains unconscious for the moment. This is the reason why its logic does not permit it to remain stationary at a relatively higher stage of immediacy but forces it to persevere in an uninterrupted movement towards this totality, i.e. to persist in the dialectical process by which immediacies are constantly annulled and transcended. Marx recognised this aspect of proletarian class consciousness very early on. In his comments on the revolt of the Silesian weavers he lays emphasis on its “conscious and theoretical character.” He sees in the ‘Song of the Weavers’ a “bold battle cry which does not even mention the hearth, factory or district but in which the proletariat immediately proclaims its opposition to private property in a forceful, sharp, ruthless and violent manner.” Their action revealed their “superior nature” for “whereas every other movement turned initially only against the industrialist, the visible enemy, this one attacked also the hidden enemy, namely the banker.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, rising up (quite literally) from beneath the boot of white supremacist, capitalist and state oppression, sees the system for what it is in its totality. It attacks the statues in our streets because they are the unseen enemies of history’s persistent becoming. It, too, has a theoretical nature and a consciousness that, we hope, will persist. It punctures the crisis of the negative in this way, making for a moment of revolution that, whether explicitly or not, seems acutely Marxist in its nature.
The far-right, of course, attack whatever is in front of them — even if that’s the police that they are, supposedly, out in numbers to support. They are mired in immediacy and, in the process, they only illuminate the impotence of the very state they are attacking. They are the ying to Boris Johnson’s yang. BLM, on the other hand, is one step outside the circle and it is looking in, choosing targets wisely. That is how you accelerate a process — and that process is history.