Violence in Bloch and Žižek

Just found this paper I wrote a few years ago for a conference in Washington and thought i might try and place it somewhere. Any suggestions:


Peter Thompson

Bloch-Dutschke-Žižek: Violence as Revolutionary Eschaton


‘Das Schöne ist nichts / als des Schrecklichen Anfang’

Rainer Maria Rilke, Duineser Elegien I

‘Denn das Schöne bedeutet das mögliche Ende der Schrecken’

Heiner Müller, ‘Bilder’


There are three reasons for grouping these three thinkers together in an attempt to define the eschatological nature of revolutionary violence:

  • Firstly they represent a specific strand of the development of Marxist attitudes to ideology, power and violence since the beginning of the late modern period in Europe in which the move from the exercise of authoritarian to democratic power led to a thoroughgoing debate about the nature of social hegemony.
  • Secondly they also have a central link with 1968: Bloch as the theoretical and ideological precursor of much anti-dogmatic and utopian-humanist Marxism, Dutschke as the central figurehead of the revolution and Žižek as one of the most significant (although also most uncomfortable) political heirs of the tradition of Soyons realiste – exigeons l’impossible.
  • Thirdly they are also all what Bloch once called Thomas Münzer; namely ‘theologians of the revolution’. Their essentially Marxist revolutionary theories and actions were and are underpinned by a relationship with religion in its messianic, eschatological and apocalyptic dimensions which cannot simply be ignored, as many seek to do.

I intend to tease out some of the aspects of the relationship between these three things in this paper.

The idea of demanding impossibility is essentially one which contains within it a transcendental element and an apparently metaphysical commitment to something other than that which is. In all three thinkers, however, the idea of transcendence is one which is approached from a non-dualist and non-transcendental perspective. The utopian drive inherent in their thinking is one which is processual and emergent rather than programmatic and teleological, that is, whatever is to come will emerge out of the process of its own emergence as a self-generating or autopoietic system rather than as the fulfilment of some pre-existing blueprint. Paradoxically, the non-teleological telos and non-transcendental transcendence involved in the process is the very thing which lends it a theological dimension, in that it cannot be approached on the basis of certainty (in either the resurrection or the revolution) but only of uncertainty, doubt, failure, faith and hope. The very uncertain nature of this process therefore tends to require of those who pursue it a dogmatic certainty that they have chosen the right path from amongst the many on offer, from what Bloch calls the multiverse of open possibilities. The uncertainty of the current moment, the ‘darkness of the lived moment’ as Bloch calls it, requires a certainty of purpose of those who wish to overcome that moment. This may be based in an analysis of past events and a vision of future hopes but it essentially requires a leap into the abyss, or at least a determination to start shinning out along the rope which leads from Ape to Übermensch.

The first step in overcoming that which exists is, for all three of these thinkers, not merely to be found in a challenge to the Ding an sich; to the Dingheit des Seienden but to the Ding für sich, i.e. what the Thing thinks of itself, how it understands itself and how it defends itself against challenges. In other words, any fundamental challenge to the system has to be predicated on a challenge to the ideology of that system rather than its being.

However, as Žižek points out, referring to Hegel, one person’s ideology is another person’s common sense. Hegel maintained that there was a sort of background radiation of ideology in all historical periods. The ruling ideology is thus not only always the ideology of the ruling class but it also becomes invisible as that class consolidates its power, what Žižek terms the vanishing mediator. This is something which sneaks up on us without our noticing. Heidegger, borrowing from both Hegel and Nietzsche here, described this as a process of Verwindung, i.e. that the Zeitgeist of the times in which we live is a distorted agglomeration of all the epochs which have preceded it but that these distortions have been taken up into the epoch in an unnoticed way so that what is becomes that which must be. What starts as a contingent process becomes part of a greater teleology and contingency itself is transformed into necessity.

Those who benefit from the momentary hegemony of the existing, this ‘verdinglichtes Prozessmoment’ which becomes natural law, naturally feel that the laws which defend that system are just and the best of all possible worlds rather than laws arrived at as part of a historical process. Or rather, they see that there used to be history which led up to the present formulation of society but that this process has now stopped. The End of History thesis thus itself has a long history and is, paradoxically, one which takes hold in every historical epoch. This is what we could call structural ideological hegemony, in which the exercise of power becomes legitimated and hegemonic in the eyes of those who are subject to the power. One of the unifying strands for these three thinkers is therefore their attitude to power – something they see as essentially ephemeral, inherently unjust and eternally mutable. For Bloch, Dutschke und Žižek the maintenance of apparently legitimate power over people against their own interests is always more interesting than a critique of simple authoritarian rule and it is in this gap between what is and what people think about it that they seek the drives and desires of transcendent consciousness.

Of course this gap is historically determined in that only with the emergence of liberal democracy and the integration of the mass of the population into some sort of social settlement did it become necessary to exercise power in a more subtly ideological and legal way but for them the greater crime within the rule of law is always the crime of the legal structures. As Brecht put it, ‘Was ist ein Einbruch in eine Bank gegen die Gründung einer Bank?’

Ideology takes many different forms, however, from the more rooted structural and systemic forms of the system of law making and enforcing to the more ephemeral day to day saturations of our lives. However, the apparently ephemeral is no less an indicator of the power of hegemonic ideology than is the system of law. I was once talking to my students about ideology and asked them why it was that women felt it necessary to shave their armpits and legs in the UK and the US while in France and Germany many women didn’t. To which one female student retorted ‘ewwww, that’s not natural.’ I don’t think I could have made the point any clearer myself.

As a result what then stands out as ‘ideological’ in the post–ideological world is the act of taking up stance per se if that stance is based in any over-arching analysis of the nature of ideological production. Ideology in common parlance means thus only those structural thoughts and ideas which challenge structural ideological hegemony. What bolsters the structural ideological hegemony of the specific moment is also structural Gewalt and again this Gewalt exists in two forms, two translations of the word. When I first learned German and started reading and getting interested in politics I only knew the word violence as the translation for Gewalt. Imagine my surprise when I read in the Grundgesetz of the Federal Republic, Article 20, Para 2, that: ‘Alle Gewalt geht vom Volke aus. Sie wird vom Volke in Wahlen und Abstimmungen . . . ausgeübt.’ I got quite excited about elections and thought how much more interesting they must be than British ones.

In this transition though, from Gewalt as power to Gewalt as violence, we have the clue to what it actually means for the maintenance and monopoly of power thought the state also means the maintenance of that power through the implicit threat of violence. This is the unknown known of state power in liberal democracy and it is in the gap between the two translations of Gewalt that we find access to the Ideologiekritik of Bloch, Dutschke and Žižek which shades over into a Gewaltbereitschaft.

In Bloch this mood stems from a previous age at the beginning of the 20th century in which the catastrophe of the First World War was widely seen as the death throe of a decadent imperialism on the verge of collapse and the Russian revolution as its coup de grace. Bloch’s conversion, like Brecht’s, from a vitalist Nietzschean Expressionism to revolutionary socialism is traceable to this apocalyptic mood and the moment of irruption represented by the Bolshevik seizure of power. Bloch also famously gives a thoroughly Judaeo-Christian twist to his atheistic notions of revolutionary change and the establishment of paradise on earth which give his Marxism, it has been argued, both a Messianic and an eschatological dimension, if not a fully apocalyptic one. As he wrote in 1918, in Gnostic mode, ‘wir müssen die Schlange des Dionysischen auf die rote Fahne der Revolution schreiben!’[1] The concept of the communist revolution as the creating force of the both the communist and modernist New Man and of the Nietzschean Übermensch is entirely in keeping with the times. Jean Juares had declared the proletariat to be the Übermensch and Trotsky himself spoke of communism as the force which would allow all men to rise to the level of an Aristotle, a Goethe or a Marx, above whom new peaks, a new Übermensch, would arise.[2] This commitment to the Soviet dream would be a constant throughout his life, even though the relationship was sometimes a very fraught one. Oskar Negt called him the ‘Philosopher of the October Revolution’ and his defence of both Stalin and the great purges of 1936-37 as necessary acts of defence of the revolution was always held against him, not least by those members of the Frankfurt School who were otherwise amongst his friends, above all Adorno. Bloch once said in his own defence that he did not want to be like those defenders of the French revolution who, as soon as the great terror arrived, melted away for fear of the realities of the maintenance of power. In the struggle for the interpretive high-ground he was therefore far closer to Hegel’s acceptance of the need for Bonapartism than he was to Hölderlin’s maintenance of the dreams of the original revolutionary élan of 1789.

From his first work, Spirit of Utopia, published in 1918, to his last full work in 1975, Experimentum Mundi, he maintained a commitment to revolutionary change which included the recognition of the necessity of violence as a means of attaining and maintaining power. However, Bloch was also someone whose pacifism rather than his revolutionary defeatism sent him into exile in Switzerland during the First World War. His personal position was one of a fundamental dislike of and opposition to violence, and his concrete utopian future – to the extent that it had any programmatic dimension at all – was one entirely free of violence. However, in order to reach that promised land, where the lamb would indeed be able to lie down with the lion, he saw that it would first be necessary for the lambs to forcibly remove the lion’s claws.

In Dutschke, although the generational difference is marked and the socialisation of someone born in 1940 and brought up under the authoritarian bureaucracy of the GDR is completely different to that of Bloch’s, there is a similar preparedness to embrace revolutionary violence in order to overthrow what was seen as an oppressive system. As Jürgen Miermeister points out, Bloch and Dutschke became close friends; Bloch at the end of his life, Dutschke, apparently, at the beginning and they both had the same sort of vitalist, Messianic and Nietzschean drive.[3] This was coupled with a biblical understanding of what revolution actually meant. As Dutschke wrote in 1967:


Der biblische Garten Eden ist die phantastische Erfüllung des uralten Traums der Menschheit. Aber noch nie in der Geschichte war die Möglichkeit der Realisierung so groß. Rüstung, unnütze Verwaltung und Bürokratie, unausgenutzte Industriekapazitäten, Reklame bedeuten eine systematische Kapitalvernichtung. Die wiederum macht es unmöglich, den Garten Eden historisch zu verwirklichen.[4]


Miermeister compares this with Bloch’s contention, as if straight from the Old Testament that ‘Die ganze bisherige Welt ist Ägyten, aus dem man ausbrechen muß; ein neuer Himmel wird entstehen, wo man des alten nicht mehr gedenkt.’[5] In this sense, however, both were following in the footsteps of the early Marx, who, in a letter to Arnold Ruge in 1843, wrote that the flight from religious dogma and mysticism can only be achieved by seeing within it that which was always already true – what Bloch called the ‘Invariante der Richtung’ – in human consciousness:

Unser Wahlspruch muß also sein: Reform des Bewußtseins nicht durch Dogmen, sondern durch Analysierung des mystischen, sich selbst unklaren Bewußtseins, trete es nun religiös oder politisch auf. Es wird sich dann zeigen, daß die Welt längst den Traum von einer Sache besitzt, von der sie nur das Bewußtsein besitzen muß, um sie wirklich zu besitzen. Es wird sich zeigen, daß es sich nicht um einen großen Gedankenstrich zwischen Vergangenheit und Zukunft handelt, sondern um die Vollziehung der Gedanken der Vergangenheit. Es wird sich endlich zeigen, daß die Menschheit keine neue Arbeit beginnt, sondern mit Bewußtsein ihre alte Arbeit zustande bringt.[6]

At the same time, Dutschke, as with Bloch and Marx before him, was confronted with the question of how one actually gets to this promised land of fulfilled dreams. The single word Vollziehung which Marx quite clearly sees as central concern here, underlining it as he does in his original letter, contains within it a very large question mark about the revolutionary strategy required for the apparently simple completion of an old idea. For Dutschke, however, the Christian message of loving one’s neighbour as oneself, implicit in this letter from Marx to Ruge, was one which could only be realised when the conditions for it had also been realised, on the other side of the eschaton. In this sense, although he was critical of the RAF for their hyper-voluntaristic tactics, his support for Guevara’s Focus strategy meant that the possibility of using revolutionary violence against structural violence was not rejected.

‘Alles politische Handeln hier steht und fällt jetzt im Kontext der internationalen revolutionären Bewegungen. […] Der Staat hat gezeigt, zu welchen Mitteln er greift, wenn eine Bewegung auf ihr Recht, das Recht auf Widerstand pocht. Da haben wir da die richtige Antwort nicht gefunden, wir dürfen aber von vornherein nicht auf eigene Gewalt verzichten, denn das würde nur ein Freibrief für die organisierte Gewalt des Systems bedeuten.’[7]

Although this refers to the international situation, and in particular to ‘Third World’ liberation movements which were central to his Leninist strategy of breaking the weak link in the imperialist chain, he was also in favour of bringing the revolution home in the creation of ‘zwei, drei, viele Vietnam’. Taken together with the Marcusian idea of repressive tolerance – in which the system exercises authority not through direct repression but through the intermingling within the subject of both the individualistic permissive freedom characteristic of post-enlightenment bourgeois modernity and an acceptance of authority as legitimate in its own right through a proto-Calvinist doctrine of predestination – Dutschke was certainly drawn into the debates about waking people up via the means of an anarchistic propaganda of the deed from the slumber induced by successful capitalism.

In Žižek of course we have both a continuation and a break with this tradition whereby  it is enhanced (if that is the right word) with a Hegelian/Lacanian/Freudian dimension in which violence becomes not only a tactical question of how to mobilise people for a revolution but  also of a demonstration of fidelity to an Event  – in the apocalyptic sense that Alain Badiou means it; as an ‘irruption’ in the normal course of events – which has relevance beyond the actual tactical facts of the matter.

Žižek of course follows the Marxist, Blochian/ Dutschkean line of the presence of a structural violence which is both omnipresent in the every day but, due to its very omni-presence, also completely absent from our conscious thoughts. Ideology remains for Žižek false consciousness and, though he doesn’t use the term, repressive tolerance (i.e. the unconscious acceptance of conditions which are objectively not in the interests of those who accept them whilst at the same time believing that the attitudes arrived at are fully autonomously decided) his attack on the system for its collusion in self-delusion through the apparent comprehensive enjoyment of freedom has at the very least a Marcusian tinge. However, the psychoanalytical dimension Žižek gives this equation allocates the primacy of this self-delusion not simply to objective socio-economic conditions and the mechanisms of bourgeois rule but to the inherent fetishization of the Lacanian objet petit a due to the recognition of the impossibility of gaining access to a Big Other, be that God, socialism or whatever. This would seem to have an ahistorical dimension in Žižek/Lacan which will not be removed through social liberation. To him it is a fundamental aspect of human existence that the hole which Bloch and Dutschke believes can be filled with the final Nirvana of human becoming is the very thing which drives us forward. For Žižek the revolutionary the attainment of socialism, would be the end of humanity rather than the start of the New Man, and would in fact represent our arrival in the world of Nietzsche’s Last Men. As he points out, when he was in therapy he constantly lied to his therapist because he was worried that without his compulsive obsessions he would end up being like a normal person. Our hidden depths are therefore both the things in which our trauma resides but also the things which drive us forward.

Žižek uses the famous quote from Donald Rumsfeld in order to demonstrate this.

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened[8] are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.[9]

And adds to it a fourth dimension; namely the unknown knowns.

The Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the unknown knowns – the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values. Thus Bush was wrong. What we get when we see the pictures of humiliated Iraqi prisoners is precisely an insight into ‘American values’, into the core of an obscene enjoyment that sustains the American way of life.[10] [one could argue here that there is no need to restrict this to the American way of life, given that Žižek maintains that this is a universal human trait]

This gives us the Lacanian psychoanalytical dimension on top of the Marxist structural one: In this reading we not only suffer from false consciousness but we actually enjoy and live from the symptoms of that false consciousness by revelling in the breaking of taboos and enjoying our transgression without actually wanting to break out of it. This brings out the inhuman dimension – what Lacan called the inhuman core – within us, so that rather than loving our neighbour as ourselves, Žižek uses the phrase ‘fear your neighbour as yourself’, which means that we must take into account the latent possibility of monstrosity which actually makes us human. Our monstrosity, our capacity for violent inhumanity towards each other is precisely the thing which therefore makes ethics possible because necessary. Our otherness is the predicate for our essential sameness. We should therefore love our neighbour in the same way in which we love ourselves, i.e. by recognising the ultimate universal monster at the heart of the other. We have to treat our neighbour as we would wish to be treated not because of the ultimate good and human within him but because of his ultimate negative potential. That fear leads to repression and that repression leads to hatred. Thus when we hate the other, the foreigner, the class enemy, we actually hate within us everything which is only apparently other, foreign, but which is already known to us even if we don’t know it: the unknown known which is our being. Our punishment is to be found through a suicidal belief in the purifying power of violence. It is why terrorists come to love violence, not because of what it does to others, but what it does to the self by cauterizing and amputating the flesh infected by the virus of ‘decadent modernity’. No wonder that Islamic fundamentalists are so obsessed with amputations, beheadings and martyrdom.

Our punishment of that unknown known of our being is externalised and projected onto what Lacan calls the objet petit a. For the Dutschke generation, the epithet ‘fascist!’ was the ultimate fetishisation of the inner demon which led to the demonization of fascists as the supposed route to their own re-humanisation, the sloughing off of the collective burden of the post-war generation in the exercising of retrospective anti-fascism. As Žižek points out, the apparently incomprehensible fact that Eichmann liked to listen to the Beethoven ‘Late String Quartets’ after a hard day at work was not the thing which revealed him as essentially human, but that the love of culture was only a mask which covered up the fact that his essential humanity lay in his monstrous nature. Again Nietzsche’s dictum that if you look too long into the abyss, it starts to look back into you becomes clear, as does his aphorism that only the strongest man can truly look at himself in the mirror.

To make the link back to Dutschke and the problems that he had with those who chose the path of anarchist terrorism, we could say that this is why the 1960s slipped away from an attack upon the system into a form of theoretical solipsism and introspection which ended in the celebration of violence for its own sake. The remnants of 1968 had to undermine what it saw as all of the instances of the authoritarian personality because it recognised that as individuals they too were deeply infected with the same bacillus as those whom they hated most and that there was no escaping the totality other than through nihilistic self-destruction. Margarethe von Trotta recognises this in her film Die Bleierne Zeit where the debate between the two sisters takes precisely this form, with the leftist Julia telling her terrorist sister Marianne that if she had been born a generation earlier she would have been a Nazi.

This recognition of the monster at the core of our being, Nietzsche’s abyssal void made flesh, has pushed Žižek in a decidedly theological direction in which, as Creston Davis points out, the figure of Christ and Christianity represents the possibility of ‘an infinite freedom without teleology which is the ground for the emergence of a true, disillusioned, and disenchanted love.’[11] Meaning that for Žižek too, violence and violent revolution have taken on an eschatological and apocalyptic dimension which is only found in those Badiouan irruptions where the Pascalean wager on the outcome has to be entered into without abstention but with an absolute acceptance of uncertainty and the prospect of failure. And for Žižek, at least in the most recent work, the figure of uncertainty within redemption is Christ on the cross. Not the crucifixion itself but the cry of Christ when he calls out; ‘my God, why hast thou forsaken me’. For Žizek and Bloch this central doubt and uncertainty – for example in the Book of Job, with the uncertainty not only of Gods’ actions but his very existence at its core – makes Christianity the only truly human religion. This then demonstrates the truly anthropocentric core and origin of all religion in that it reveals the truth of the presence of God only through his absence.

The violence done to Christ is thus a service done to humanity by revealing the truly human, all too human, core of our existence, thus clearing the way for the Vollziehung of the Garden of Eden on earth. This is what Bloch meant when he said: ‘Nur ein Atheist kann ein guter Christ sein und nur ein Christ kann ein guter Atheist sein.’[12] It is also what is behind Žižek’s contention in The Monstrosity of Christ that: ‘to put it even more bluntly, my claim is that it is Milbank who is effectively guilty of heterodoxy, ultimately to a regression to paganism: in my atheism, I am more Christian than Milbank.’[13] If the violence done to Christ and allowed by the absent father who is also Christ himself is central to the idea of redemption, then is not the violent eschatological event itself an expression of the purifying Real, the moment at which the Big Other of existence – namely Heidegger’s sum moribundum (I die, therefore I am) and Bloch’s greatest anti-utopia, death and entropy – the moment at which transcendence without the transcendent, the emergence of the emergent, becomes autopoietically possible?

The real nature of the debate here therefore resides not in the modalities of violence but its origins, point, purpose and outcome. Is the violence engaged in likely to lead to an improvement of the human lot and in any case how will we know in advance of undertaking it? As we cannot know in advance what the Telos of our violence will be, it therefore necessarily becomes both forward-looking and divine, as well as an anticipatory retrospective view of its own outcome. It therefore has to be rooted in an advocacy of its utility which is based not in a factual or rational apprehension of abstract violence an sich but in a) in its social and historical locus as well as b) its autopoietic or self-generating dynamic.

It is the process of setting out on the rope across the abyss between ape and Übermensch which itself constitutes the nature of the Übermensch arrived at. He is not waiting there on the other side to greet us, just as there is no Christ waiting in heaven to welcome us. As Bloch points out the radical truth of Yahweh’s response to Moses out of the burning bush ‘’Ehje ascher ’Ehje’ is not to be found in Luther’s mistranslation ‘I am who I am’ but in ‘I will be who I will be’.[14] This fundamental difference between a static being and an open process is, for Bloch, the first sign in the human story of the self-constructing and autopoietic utopian spirit. In terms of what this means for violent struggle then it has to be recognised that violence itself is therefore only justified if it begets its own Telos and becomes part of the process of ending all violence rather than standing as a fetishized object in its own right. As Trotsky retorted when asked whether the end justifies the means: ‘only if the means justify the end’, and as Badiou says ‘Materialist dialectics assumes, without particular joy, that, until now, no political subject was able to arrive at the eternity of the truth it was deploying without moments of terror. Since, as Saint-Just asked: “What do those who want neither Virtue nor Terror want?” His answer is well-known: they want corruption – another name for the subject’s defeat.’[15]

This was also Brecht’s insight in his poem An die Nachgeborenen in which we are asked to look forward and appeal to a generation of people not yet born who are in turn looking back at us and asking how it was that we could do both the things we have done and those we have not yet done. This poem is all about the retrospective teleology of violence in the name of goodness and the way in which its very radical contingency only becomes a necessity in retrospect. In 1945, for example, Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote Humanism and Terror, his defence of Soviet Communism as involving a kind of Pascalean wager that a human society would emerge from it.[16] As Žižek points out, this conjunction of humanism AND terror, of violence as a necessary component of humanism, has become unthinkable today. And yet it always comes back to haunt the heart of any revolutionary situation. Of course, that very fact and its consequences may well be one of the contributing reasons why it is unthinkable, but, Žižek implies, our ‘post-deconstructionist’ age, in which humanist grand narratives are seen as part of the problem and not the solution, political thinkers are no longer permitted to even consider the coincidence of change and violence, unless it is a long way off and has a liberal interventionist intent. The self-denial of violence as part of social change is thus not a neutral and humane desire to do no harm, but an ideological weapon in the hands of those who would prevent humanist change.[17] Wolf Biermann, when he was still a communist, put this very well in his poem Ermutigung when he wrote the lines:


Du laß dich nicht erschrecken

In dieser Schreckenszeit

Das wolln sie doch bezwecken

Dass wir die Waffen strecken

Schon vor dem großen Streit[18]


All states and all law rest in an act of founding violence and that moment of violent foundation is always reified and deified (even in atheist states, where the saints are secular revolutionaries) in the same moment before going on to become the ‘vanishing mediator’ of social hegemony. Bourgeois liberalism emerged out of the revolutionary overthrow of the old order in France and even though the terror is now seen as an excess and an excrescence by liberals, it was at the same time a necessary excess, one which warned the bourgeois of the dangers of the logical extension of the desires of the radicalised Citoyen. But we can only make that judgement now – even if Zhou En Lai did think that it was too soon to say. Equally, the Bolshevik revolution could be argued to be the continuation of the Jacobin terror by other means. Its violent excesses could therefore be seen as something which was necessary in order to bring about liberal democracy and the integration of the working class into a democratic social settlement in all parts of the world except those which rested on the foundation of that revolution. In this sense Bolshevism represented the internationalisation of the consequences of the Jacobin irruption. Without it, it is unlikely that universal suffrage and the welfare state would have been accepted as necessary by large parts of the bourgeoisie who, in their defeat of the terror and the return of order through Bonapartism, had beaten down the subaltern impetus of the French revolution and limited its reach to that of democratic liberalism. After 1917 the subaltern had to be integrated into a social settlement but this was not done out of some sort of excess of democratic conviction on the part of the rulers but as a result of a socialist challenge to the very nature of the system inherent in the phrase liberté, égalité, fraternité.

All of these questions can only be answered retrospectively of course, and it is this fact which means that when undertaking or supporting violence it is structurally necessary to appeal to a transcendental divine element in the form of a wager about the future, about a certainty that what is being done in the name of the future will have the desired effect. That is the transcendental and proto-religious meaning of Brecht’s apparently atheist and communist poem.

Bloch is aware of this eschatological dimension to revolutionary violence. On the one hand, in an interview from 1972, he takes a straightforward Marxist line on structural violence which is almost word for word the same as Dutschke’s cited above:

Die jeweils Herrschenden besitzen die Gewalt, indem sie ruhen und besitzen, sie brauchen sie gar nicht spektakulär anzuwenden, sie ist als Drohung oder als letzter Ausweg in extremen Fällen immer latent vorhanden. Aufruhr allein als Gewalt zu bezeichnen ist völlig sinnlos […] Folglich: die Gewalt des Aufruhrs ist nicht die primäre, sie wendet sich vielmehr gegen die überall vorhandene Unterdrückungsmacht der herrschenden Verhältnisse.[19]


On the other hand the violence to be employed contains within it an eschatological dimension in which its cleansing effect will be the precondition for a world without violence. For him this also has a very clear biblical and Christian dimension, something which he contends is present within the Marxist concept of the withering away of the state:


Und wenn zur Herbeiführung eines nicht-klassenhaften Zustands Gewalt verwendet wird, ist sie im Grunde eine Sache, die mit der Erreichung des Ziels oder der Annäherung ans Ziel ja sofort ihren Gegenstand verliert, kraft des Absterben des Staates […] Sehr bemerkenswert bleibt auch: Absterben des Staates ist ein außerordentlich gewaltloser, friedlicher, sozusagen christlicher Ausdruck, der in der bürgerlichen Revolution nicht vorgekommen ist, wo nur die Rollen ausgetauscht wurden […] Item, die Gewalt wird in dem Moment verschwinden, wo sie vollkommen gegenstandslos geworden ist.

FRAGE: Das heißt praktisch, Gewalt als Methode dort, wo sie notwendig ist, um als Ziel eine Gesellschaft der Gewaltlosigkeit zu erreichen. Dazu würden Sie stehen?

BLOCH: Ja.[20]


In Alain Badiou’s work, Incident at Antioch, the final scene is a debate about the same issue: full equality between all in the land of milk and honey. However, the question of how this withering away of the state and of law is to be achieved without an act of enabling eschatological violence remains and is staged between David, the wild revolutionary hero, the Robbespiere of the revolution, and Paula, his mother and a cipher for St Paul:


PAULA: [To David] Look at this military map. My brother Claude Villembray gave it to me, right before we executed him. The dream, the childish fantasy—it’s all in there. He would’ve really liked to conquer the whole earth, just like any old king. Are you going to pursue that childish ambition, endlessly? The unique greatness of the human race doesn’t lie in power. The featherless biped must get a hold of himself, and against all the odds, against all the laws of nature, against all the laws of history, follow the winding road that leads to the idea that anyone is the equal of anyone else. Not just in law but in tangible truth.[21]

For David, however, and for Bloch, Dutschke and Žižek, power can only disappear once it has been taken and held on to for as long as necessary and by any means necessary but also for as short a time as possible in order to create the conditions for an end of law and the state. The central problem is that of the robustness of the mechanisms by which it can be ensured that what is done in the name of the absence and withering away of power does not itself lead to the ‘permanent state of emergency’, to use Agamben’s phrase. Bloch, Dutschke and Žižek’s separate theological turns towards a ‘tangible truth’, i.e. precisely one which is tangible only in terms of its transcendental nature rather than its positivistic existence, it’s presence through absence, can therefore have only one gloriously intangible and thus monstrous definition: Faith.

[1] Ernst Bloch Geist der Utopie Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, p?

[2] Leon Trotsky Literature and Revolution….

[3] Jürgen Miermeister Ernst Bloch Rudi Dutschke Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1996, pp. 14-15

[4] Jürgen Miermeister Ernst Bloch Rudi Dutschke Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1996, p. 16

[5] Jürgen Miermeister Ernst Bloch Rudi Dutschke Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1996, p. 17

[6] Karl Marx Briefe aus den Deutsch-Französischen Jahrbücher Karl Marx/ Friedrich Engels – Werke Dietz Verlag, Berlin. Band 1. Berlin/DDR. 1976. p. 337-346

[8] i.e. presence through absence; what a strange report that must be: Mr Rumsfeld sir, something hasn’t happened!

[11] Creston Davis ‘Introduction: Holy Saturday or Resurrection Sunday? Staging and Unlikely Debate’ in Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank, edited by Creston Davis The Monstrosity of Christ. Paradox or Dialectic? MIT 2009, p. 21.

[12] Ernst Bloch Atheismus im Christentum Frankfurt: Suhrkamp-verlag, 1968, cover imprint.

[13] Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank, edited by Creston Davis The Monstrosity of Christ. Paradox or Dialectic? MIT 2009, cover flap.

[14] Rainer Traub and Harald Wieser (eds) Gespräche mit Ernst Bloch Frankfurt: Suhrkamp-Verlag, 1977, p. 182.

[15] Logiques des Mondes Alain Badiou 2006: 98

[16] Humanisme et terreur, essai sur le problème communiste Paris: Gallimard, 1947

[18] Wolf Biermann Alle Lieder Cologne: Kiepenhauer und Witsch, 1991, p.177

[19] Rainer Traub and Harald Wieser (eds) Gespräche mit Ernst Bloch Frankfurt: Suhrkamp-Verlag, 1977, p. 165.

[20] Rainer Traub and Harald Wieser (eds) Gespräche mit Ernst Bloch Frankfurt: Suhrkamp-Verlag, 1977, p. 166.

[21] Alain Badiou Incident at Antioch translated by Susan Spitzer, unpublished in English


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