Siqueiros’ Machine Gun – Part I: Žižek, Watson and the New Jacobins

February 25, 2011

So you think you’re pretty hard and insouciantly radical, ay? So you thought writing epic poems to the passion of crack-fuelled wildcat strikes on sheaves of Derrida’s skin, with a pen carved from a bullet and with ink of bankers’ blood and absinthe, was pretty out-there? So you thought you could impress us as you snorted glass fibres while listening to Merzbow with dynamite strapped to your ass and a brick on the accelerator as the Body Shop warehouse gates loomed towards you? Then you are as reformist as a union bureaucrat’s beige underpants, because as compared to the po(li/e)tical apocalytechnics of Slavoj Žižek and Ben Watson’s Lenino-TrotskyismTOTHEX-TREME!!! Your ‘poetic terrorism’ is as a hamster’s belch to a magnetar.

The client puts two newly minted dollars on the table and says: “The one on the right is mine, you prove it’s better!” Legendary 50’s adman, foreign policy propagandist and Moroccan-boy enthusiast Rosser Reeves

Oft tales are told around the smouldering remains of the Welfare State about a Prometheus who gave humanity a far more valuable gift than fire. With his brother Epimetheus overlooking humans when handing out all the inherent qualities of animals (the attitude of the Hedgehog, the self-belief of the Paramecium) it was left to Prometheus to find some Olympian sloppy seconds to make up for our lack of qualities. Forsaking both Hephaestus’ forge and Apollo’s chariot, Prometheus’ eye was taken by a shiny brown object in the workstation of Hermes, the trickster god of the promotion of commerce. The magical spark of this object he then bestowed on Man, a gift that makes mere, naked, pathetic homo sapien sapien into Masterfully Potent Homo Faber.

Shhh, I’ll do the eyebrows while you stick his hand in the water

This is the alchemical fire, the ancient Greek notion of ‘poiesis’ as bringing-things-into-being (as opposed to turgid ‘praxis’ which merely rearranges existing molecules and was thus, quite justifiably done by slaves), the ability that makes us gods on Earth, to refashion and shape the very ethers and phlogistons of existence, in short: the ability to polish a turd. It is the Hermetic art of rebranding that sets us apart from the tapirs and the water bears. Classic Coke, Change You Can Believe In, Queenstown as a tourist destination, all these resonate with the divine poietic pulse of reinvention and make it clear why, in addition to having vultures eat his liver, Zeus personally comes and kicks Prometheus in the balls every day.

Yet the original glossy brown flakes are bestowed in large quantities on very few mortals. Calliope’s manifestation as the Muse of Reinventive Casuistry is normally restricted to quotidian sentience only in times of grieving when any hack is given the onerous task of eulogist. Thus banal, privileged assholes become magically transmogrified in death. Kerry Packer becomes a ‘colourful character’, Pope John Paul II becomes ‘accessible’ (he, like, occasionally touched common people, what an outstanding chap!), even the most vile piece of shit with the most tenuous grasp on ruling class legitimacy is guaranteed the exotic, yet simultaneously neutralizing, description as ‘controversial’. Yet through all the chaff of ad execs, eulogizing journalists and media liaison officers comes two ears of wheat as golden as an angelic love letter pissed in the snow. Though true to the Hermetic principle of promoting the commerce of the academic publishing industry the work of Žižek and Watson is of such reinventive quality it threatens the safe containment of poiesis in commodity form. Though the ISBN is still there it hangs by a thread of phallologocularcentrism, a small bridge between the howling abyss of bacchante dark matter and accountancy classes in formalin. In trying to exchange money for a Watson book the very sky rent asunder, baboon sputum fell from above and I was given incorrect change. Even now it is constantly molesting the other books on the shelf beside it in an attempt to thwart its atrophy into a stable commodity form. To fully appreciate how Žižek and Watson directly channel Hermes in the very act of poo varnishing it is worth examining the raw material they work with.


In a time before the harvests failed and emo took all the fight out of the kids the earnest visages of Lenin and Trotsky glowered down approvingly on those who would carry the stigmata of militancy. In this Golden Age Marxist politics was a calling undertaken by pragmatic realists proud of their no-nonsense attitude and disdain for existentialist faggotry. Here workerist deprivation and stodginess were treasured in the same way that the suffering and simplicity of Christ was adored and emulated by Christians [i]. The personal example of Lenin and Trotsky promoted, amongst their less imaginative followers, a tradition of dourness and hectoring shrillness. Well what else did they have to go on but the legacy of two technocrats with delusions of grandeur, whose personalities were about as attractive as a constipated Anglerfish, alternating as they did between cold mass murder, cringingly awful and pompous verbosity, claims to intellectualism[ii] and brain-fluid-freezing administrative tediousness? Their invocation is associated with turgid meetings, Bismarckian office politicking and a sectarianism so virulent that some weapons researchers kept a group of Trots together in a special chamber in the desert, working on the theory that over a given period of time the schismatic force of the group would lead to the splitting of their atoms[iii].

These attributes are typified by the boring didacticism of Socialist Workers’ Party intellectual heavyweight Alex Callinicos, whose quotidian persona as a mild-mannered, non-descript political scientist hides is true identity as a mild-mannered, non-descript activist functionary (when he rips off his tie and changes his underpants[iv]).

Is it a juvenile delinquent? Is it a rock star? No, it’s an ideologue dork in an ill-fitting leather jacket

Lacking only the bloodthirsty cynicism of his heroes one can only assume that this missing ingredient for the perfect Lenino-Trotskyite exists in the secret vial of Trotsky’s spinal fluid (recovered off Ramon Mercator’s pickaxe) that Callinicos keeps in a brown corduroy safe. Once devotional loyalty to the Party reaches critical mass and the Moment of Crisis – the Emergence of the Beast of Unfettered Capitalism for which we all have to wait – arrives one can only imagine that Callinicos will imbibe the fluid, grow a spine and metamorphose from mousy desk jockey into Our Fearless Leader; Lev Incarnate, hacking his way through counter-revolutionaries to the Promised Land of Just and Rational Authority.

Until that Glorious Hour, when Alex will be able to have dissenters simply eradicated, we are left with Chickenicos Little clucking incessantly about the ominous threat of autonomism and other non-authoritarian left traitors, whose nefarious talking down of the necessity of centralized political parties is far worse than the plundering of any robber baron given the acres of print[v] Callinicos commits to the topic and the time he spends travelling the world lectu-ranguing everyone on it. Of course it is unfair to single out Callinicos as he is simply part of the overall move to make sure, in the best opportunistic traditions of Trotskyism, that the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement (to which it can claim fuck-all credit for inspiring or instigating) is harvested for the Party. To make sure that only the best and brightest are subsumed Callinicos travels the world passing judgement on various Marxist groups as to whether they pass muster as ‘movements’ or are consigned to the infantile status of ‘tendencies’. The image of Callinicos travelling with a special poli-meter to measure the political legitimacy of groups, like a phrenologist measuring skulls, says so much about the vital legacy that Lenin and Trotsky left behind.

[i] Watson, in Art, Class & Cleavage (p. 32) recounts the story of a drummer who was told by a Socialist Worker’s Party member that being a muso was pretty self-indulgent and that he should get a ‘proper job’ so as to engage in proper class struggle. While Watson cannot defend such an attitude he is quick to contrast it favourably with the far worse ‘compromise and confusion’ of anarchism. Only the uncompromising clarity of revolutionary boredom is real politics, as the fire of capitalist boredom is fought using the fire of Leninist-Trotskyite boredom for a more just boring future.

[ii] With the notable exception of theories of fucking people over, the contribution of Lenin and Trotsky to original social theory is currently neck and neck with Robert Ludlum. Lenin’s supposedly seminal work on imperialism was largely dependent on other works, like those of the liberal J. A. Hobson, though whatever his theoretical shortcomings Lenin more than made up for them in the field of applied imperialism in Georgia and other Russian ‘colonies’.

[iii] After initial enthusiasm the Trotschism Bomb has been declared untenable due to the fact that any energy released is quickly dissipated in petty in-fighting. However as a consequence theoretical physicists have expressed an interest in how the physics behind this bomb could undermine the first and third laws of thermodynamics.

[iv] Actually that is not entirely fair. According to Andrew Coates’ great piece “Callinicos, SWP: Chief Big Heap?” Alex can get quite bellicose and vile when the mood suits him.

[v] Of studious analytical prose that Watson (A,C&C: 12n) quite staggeringly admits is far from William Blake or Guy Debord. Yeah, I know it took me a while to pick myself up off the floor too!


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