Santiago Zabala on Communism's Present and Future

“After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life, but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.”—Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala, Hermeneutic Communism The Los Angeles Review of Books recently featured Hermeneutic Communism: From Heidegger to Marx, by Gianni Vattimo and Santiago Zabala. In his review, Eduardo Mendieta wrote that the book, “teaches us that we not only have to interpret the inheritance of communism in ever more generative and creative ways, but also fashion a more ecumenical and humane ‘we,’ through the new stories we tell about how we got where we are today and where we should be going in the near future.”

The LARoB also published a wide-ranging interview with Santiago Zabala about the book and the resurgence of communism in political practice and theory. In the interview, Zabala also placed his and Vattimo’s views of communism and philosophy in the context of the works of a range of other thinkers, including Badiou, Heidegger, Derrida, Searle, and Fukuyama. For Zabala and Vattimo, the failure of the Soviet State or communist political parties has ultimately:

[D]isclosed its unrealized potentialities that must be endorsed in order to modify, as Slavoj Žižek puts it, the “coordinates of what appears as possible and give birth to something new.” Hence communism is not an eternal set of rules that are present in every epoch of history to be applied rapidly, but simply a movement that “has to be reinvented in each new historical situation.”

Zabala continues:

However, communism is not proposed any longer as a program for political parties to repeat previous historical regimes, but rather as an existential response to the current neoliberal global condition. The correlation between existence and philosophy is constitutive not only of most philosophical traditions but also of politics in its responsibility for the existential well-being of humans. After all, politics is not supposed to be simply at the service of everyday administrative life, but also to provide a reliable guide for everyone to fully exercise existence. But when these and other obligations are not met, philosophers tend to become existentialist, that is, to question and propose alternatives.

Later in the interview, Zabala contrasts his and Vattimo’s views, which privilege hermeneutics, with those of “conservative realist positions of philosophers like John Searle, Robert Kagan, and Francis Fukuyama”:

This is probably why, as Vattimo recently reminded us, hermeneutic philosophers are often described as “crypto-terrorists and fomenters of social disorder” even though their objective is to preserve freedom through interpretation. The event of Being is an opportunity, rather than a threat — it is an opportunity for change, that is, for further interpretations, and hermeneutic ontology is a transformative thought interested in both welcoming and generating events. The problem is not being shaken by events but rather the fear of being shaken, a fear which leads metaphysicians to create refuges from difference, alterity, and also the proper practice of democracy.

He also speaks to the failings of the EU in recent years and how the recent economic downturn has threatened its commitment to some of its core values. Zabala speaks to the ways in which Latin American countries such as Venezuela, under the leadership of Chavez, have offered a new model that represent some of the ideals of the new kind of communism:

Vattimo and I have suggested looking to the new democratically elected leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia, and other Latin American nations. If these leaders have managed to enact communist policies without violent insurrections, it isn’t because of their theoretical or programmatic strength but rather because of their weakness. Contrary to the “scientific socialism” agenda, weak (or hermeneutic) communism has embraced not only the ecological cause of degrowth but also the decentralization of the state bureaucratic system in order to permit independent counsels to increase community involvement. It should not come as a surprise if many other philosophers, now made communist by the destructive actions and life-destroying policies of neoliberalism, also see the alternative this region offers, especially because the Latin American nations have demonstrated how communist access to power can also take place through the formal rules of democracy….

While Gianni justifies communism through Christianity, I prefer to do it through hermeneutics. Either way, we both think Heidegger’s famous statement “only God can save us” ought to be modified to “only communism can save us.” If salvation is still something we can strive for — and we should — then religion’s emphasis on spirituality ought to be the point of departure for our political discourses. Now that Chávez is gone, but remains as a symbol of progress and resistance, his image can be used as a guiding star or model that is not very different from spirituality. The point is not to idealize models, but to allow models to be idealized, something that we are not always allowed to do. If, as Heidegger said, “the only emergency is the lack of a sense of emergency,” then we must invite everyone to overcome those politicians and philosophers who call for more security, stability, and, most of all, truth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment