Recently, two events that showed a glimmer of hope occurred in our depressing times: the elections in Bolivia and the APRUEBO referendum in Chile. (On October 25, 2020, voters were asked to choose between “apruebo” – approving changes of the Chilean constitution in the direction of more social justice and freedoms – and “rechazo” – rejecting this change.) In both cases, we have a rare overlap of “formal” democracy (free elections) with a substantial people’s will. Bolivia and Chile proved that, despite all ideological manipulations, even the so-called “bourgeois democracy” can sometimes work. However, today, liberal democracy is reaching its limits: in order to work, it has to be supplemented with… what?

Something very interesting is now emerging in France as a reaction to massive mistrust in state institutions: a rebirth of local citizen’s assemblies first practiced by the Ancient Greeks:

“as far back as 621 BC, the ecclesia, or popular assembly of ancient Athens was a forum in which any male citizen regardless of class could participate. Now, with a pandemic-induced economic and social crisis looming, this ancient democratic tool is being updated for the 21st century. Towns, cities and regions across France are increasingly turning to their citizens to help steer them towards a more egalitarian future.”

These forums are not organized by local state apparatuses; they are self-organized by active members of local communities outside the state and involve a strong element of chance, of lottery. The number of randomly selected delegates is 150. We find a vaguely similar procedure in Chile after the victory of APRUEBO referendum where 155 individuals, selected outside institutional political forces, will work on the draft of a new constitution.

After Victory, the Real Struggle

Mark Twain supposedly said: “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” There are no proofs that he really did say or write this; the most probable origin of the phrase is a 1976 newspaper column by Robert S. Borden in The Lowell Sun. Writing about the US electoral system, Burden noted: “Has it ever dawned on the editors that the attitudes of the 70 million projected non-voters may be very consistent with the reality that the concept of voting and electing representatives is basically dishonest and fraudulent? If voting could change anything it would be made illegal!” However, the claim is attributed to Twain for good reasons. It faithfully reflects his stance: although Twain was an advocate of voting rights for everybody (women included) and solicited people to vote, he was deeply sceptical about the machinations that prevent the majority to express their will. So, one should accept the quoted thesis in principle, as universally valid, but one should ground this universality in an exception. From time to time, there ARE elections and referendums that DO matter. While these elections are the only ones that deserve to be characterized as “democratic,” they are, as a rule, experienced as a sign of instability, as an indication that democracy is in danger.

The January coup against the Morales regime in Bolivia legitimized itself as a return to parliamentary “normality” against the “totalitarian” danger that Morales would abolish democracy and change Bolivia into a new Cuba or Venezuela. The truth was that, in the decade of Morales’ reign, Bolivia did establish a successful new “normality,” bringing together the democratic mobilization of the people and clear economic progress. As their new President Luche Arce, Morales’ minister of economy, pointed out, in the decade of Morales’ reign Bolivians enjoyed the best years of their lives. It was the coup against Morales that destroyed this hard-won normality and brought new chaos and misery, so that the electoral victory of Arce means that Bolivia doesn’t have to begin from zero, but just return to the state of things before the coup.

In Chile, the situation is more complex. October is a Chilean month, the month when radical turns in the country’s political history take place. It was on October 24, 1970 that Salvador Allende’s victory was ratified; on October 18, 2019 wide popular protests, which anounced the end of Pinochet-normalization, exploded; and on October 25, 2020 (incidentally, the very date of the October Revolution according to the old Russian calendar) the victory of APRUEBO took place, bringing with it the dissolution of the repressive signifiers, built on the impunity of crimes and violations of human rights. October is, thus, not just another month in the Chilean calendar; it is deeply associated with the historical and symbolic ruptures the people decided to accomplish.

Although respecting all formal-democratic rules, Allende enforced a series of measures that were perceived as way too “radical” by the ruling class; with active support from the US, the ruling class organized a series of economic sabotages, and when even this didn’t diminish popular support for Allende, his government was overthrown by a military coup d’etat on September 11, 1973 (the TRUE catastrophe of 9/11). After 4 years of military dictatorship, in 1977, the creation of the Political Constitution of Chile was entrusted to the Commission of Studies of the New Constitution formed by a group of 12 people appointed by the Military Junta. The draft drawn up by this group was modified by the Council of State, also designated by the Junta, and finally by General Pinochet himself. The purpose of this document was to ensure the survival of the model that was being implemented in the country, leaving the capacity for future freedom suspended with respect to economic decisions that could threaten such a model.

Pinochet thus enforced his own “democratic” normalization with the new constitution, which safely secured the privileges of the rich within a neoliberal order. Protests that exploded in October 2019 are a proof that the Pinochet democratization was fake, as is every democracy tolerated or even promoted by a dictatorial power. The APRUEBO movement, which grew out of these protests, wisely focused on changing the constitution: it made it clear to the majority of Chileans that the democratic normalization coordinated by Pinochet was a continuation of Pinochet regime with other means. The Pinochet forces remained in the background as “deep state,” making sure that the democratic game did not run out of control. Now, that the illusion of Pinochet normalization is broken, Chile doesn’t have an already established order to return to, so it will have to build carefully a new normality, for which even the glorious Allende years cannot really serve as a model.

There are dangers on this path. The electoral victory is only the beginning: the real hard work begins the day after, when the enthusiasm is over and the new normality of a post-capitalist world has to be patiently constructed. In a way, this struggle will be more difficult than the protests and campaign for APRUEBO. The campaign had a clear enemy and just had to articulate the justices and misery caused by that enemy, with the emancipatory goals remaining in a comfortable abstraction: dignity, social and economic justice, etc. Now, APRUEBO has to operationalize its program, to translate it into a series of concrete measures, and this will bring out all internal differences that are ignored in the ecstatic solidarity of the people.

Threats to the emancipatory process are already appearing. As expected, some Rightists try to appropriate the discourse of social democracy against the APRUEBO “extremists.” Within APRUEBO itself, there are signs of a conflict between those who want to remain within traditional representative democracy and those who want a more radical social mobilization. The way out of this predicament is not to get stuck in boring “principled” debates, but to get to work, elaborating and enforcing different projects. Daniel Jadue is the right person to coordinate these efforts, also with regard to his achievements as the mayor of Recoleta. The great hit of the Chilean group Los Prisioneros, “El baile de los que sobran” (“The dance of those who are left over”), became a musical symbol of the protesters occupying the streets. Now, Chile needs el trabajo duro de los que sobran (the hard work of those who are left over). If this does not happen, the old regime will survive with a new social-democratic mask, and the tragedy of 1973 (the coup against Allende) will repeat itself as a postmodern cynical farce.

It is too risky to predict how the struggle will end. The main obstacle is not the legacy of Pinochet as such, but the legacy of the gradual (fake) opening of his dictatorial regime. Especially throughout the 1990s, Chilean society underwent what we may call a fast post-modernization: an explosion of consumerist hedonism, superficial sexual permissiveness, competitive individualism, etc. Those in power realized that such atomized social space is much more effective than direct state oppression against radical Leftist projects that rely on social solidarity. Classes continue to exist “in themselves” but not “for themselves”; I see others from my class more as competitors than as members of a same group with common interests. Direct state oppression tends to unite the opposition and promote organized forms of resistance, while in “postmodern” societies even extreme dissatisfaction assumes the form of chaotic revolts that soon run out of breath, unable to reach the “Leninist” stage of an organized force with a clear program.[1]     

What gives some hope in Chile are the specific features of changes. Suffice it to mention just two. The first is the strong political engagement of psychoanalysts, predominantly Lacanians, on the Left: they played a strong role already in protests that erupted in October of 2019, as well as in the organization that led to the victory of APRUEBO in the referendum. Second, in Chile (as in some other countries like Bolivia, but in contrast to Brazil), the new Rightist populism has never successfully caught on: popular mobilization has a clear Leftist character. A question, then, arises: are these two features somehow connected?

Psychoanalysis, Ethics, Politics

Where does psychoanalysis stand with regard to radical social changes? It mostly occupies a “moderate” liberal place and worries about the traps of a radical emancipatory process. Lacan offers an exemplary case in this regard. He clearly demonstrated that the basic antagonism of our psychic life is not the one between egotism and altruism, but between the domain of the Good in all its guises and the domain beyond the pleasure-principle in all its guises (the excess of Love, of the death-drive, of envy, of Duty…).

In philosophical terms, this antagonism can be best exemplified by the names of Aristotle and Kant. Aristotle’s ethics is the ethics of the Good, the ethics of moderation, of the proper measure, directed against excesses, while Kant’s ethics is the ethics of unconditional duty, enjoining us to act beyond all proper measure, even if our acts lead to a catastrophe. No wonder that many critics find Kant’s rigorism too “fanatical,” and no wonder that Lacan discerned in Kantian unconditional ethical command the first formulation of his own ethics of fidelity to one’s desire!

Any ethics of the Good is ultimately an ethics of goods, of something that can be divided, distributed, exchanged (for other goods). This is why Lacan was deeply skeptical about the notion of distributive justice: it remains at the level of the distribution of goods and cannot deal even with a relatively simple paradox of envy. What if I prefer to get less, provided that my neighbor gets even less than me (and this awareness that my neighbor is even more deprived gives me a surplus-enjoyment)? This is why egalitarianism itself should never be accepted at face value: the notion (and practice) of egalitarian justice, insofar as it is sustained by envy, relies on the inversion of the standard renunciation accomplished to benefit others: ‘I am ready to renounce it, so that others will (also) NOT (be able to) have it!’ Far from being opposed to the spirit of sacrifice, Evil here emerges as the very spirit of sacrifice, ready to ignore one’s own well-being, if, through my sacrifice, I can deprive the Other of its enjoyment

This, however, does not work as a general argument against all projects of egalitarian emancipation, but only against projects which focus on redistribution. We should never forget that distributive justice is a Left-liberal (or social-democratic) notion. One remains within the capitalist order of production as the “only one that really works”; one only tries to correct the imbalance of wealth by heavily taxing the rich, etc. Our goal today should be more radical: as it is becoming more and more clear from the ongoing crises (the Covid-19 pandemic, global warming, forest fires, and others), global capitalist order is reaching its limit, threatening to drag the entire humanity into the abyss of self-destruction.

Once we realize this, cynical liberal conservatism advocated by Jacques-Alain Miller no longer works. Miller endorses the old conservative “wisdom” that, in order to maintain stability, one has to respect and follow routines established by a choice which is

“always arbitrary and authoritarian. ‘There is no progressivism which holds,’ but rather a particular kind of hedonism called ‘liberalism of enjoyment.’ One has to maintain intact the routine of the cité, its laws and traditions, and accept that a kind of obscurantism is necessary in order to maintain social order. ‘There are questions one shouldn’t ask. If you turn the social turtle on its back, you will never succeed in turning it back onto its paws.’”[2]

One cannot but note that Chile in the “permissive” 1990s offers a perfect case of such “liberalism of enjoyment” which maintains intact the routine of the cité. And, indeed, Miller fearlessly spells out the political implications of his notion of a psychoanalyst who “occupies the position of an ironist, who takes care not to intervene into the political field. He acts so that semblances remain at their places while making sure that the subjects under his care do not take them as real … one should somehow bring oneself to remain taken in by them (fooled by them).”[3]

In relation to politics, then, a psychoanalyst

“doesn’t propose projects, he cannot propose them, he can only mock the projects of others, which limits the scope of his statements. The ironist has no great design, he waits for the other to speak first and then brings about his fall as fast as possible … Let us say this is political wisdom, nothing more.”[4]

This, again, perfectly fits a postmodern society, where those in power have more important things to do than to “propose projects.” It is the impotent Left (or extreme Right) that “propose projects,” and cynical psychoanalysts are here to warn against the dangers of such projects… But what to do when the turtle (of our social order) IS already on its back, so wounded that there is no way of turning it back onto its paws?

There is no time for warnings not to disturb appearances; the appearances are destroying themselves! Did a self-professed Christian conservative Donald Trump not do more to disturb appearances than the all the Leftists opposing him? In such moments, when social order is in disarray, psychoanalytic theorists tend to promote another type of warning: don’t trust the revolutionaries who promise to lead us out of the catastrophe into a new, more just order.

This seems to fit well the general psychoanalytic stance according to which even our noblest acts conceal a narcissistic, masochist, etc., libidinal motivation. Jacqueline Rose recalls Freud’s fantasy about how tyranny emerged when early humanity was struck by the horror of the Ice Age:

“Man’s response to such a brute curtailing of his drives was hysteria: the origins of conversion hysteria in modern times in which the libido is a danger to be subdued. Man also became a tyrant, bestowing on himself unrestrained dominance as a reward for his power to safeguard the lives of the many: ‘Language was magic to him, his thoughts seemed omnipotent to him, he understood the world according to his ego.’ I love this. Tyranny is the silent companion of catastrophe, as has been so flagrantly demonstrated in the behaviour of the rulers of several nations across the world today, not least America’s soon to be former president, Donald Trump.”[5]

Rose draws a general conclusion here: from the Ice Age to today’s actual and future calamities (the pandemic, global warming, the nuclear winter after a new global war), the predominant reaction to the catastrophe is the rise of tyranny in one or another form. A global calamity brings the worst out in human nature:

“Today, in the midst of a pandemic seemingly without end, there are calls for new forms of solidarity in life and in death, and for a new inclusive, political consciousness. How, though, to find a place in this new reality for the darker aspects of being human which, like upside-down sunflowers, remain at the centre of the unfinished project of psychoanalysis? Failing which, with the best will in the world, any move we make in that direction will prove in the long run to be an empty gesture.”[6]

While there is a substantial truth in this line of thought, one should nonetheless not just add details that tell a different story (Trump is not a consequence of the catastrophe; the pandemic was rather the main reason of his downfall), but reveal a much more basic other side of the coin. The lesson of psychoanalysis is not just a warning against emancipatory naivety and about deep destructive forces in human nature (Soviet Communism turned into Stalinism, etc.). The two world wars also mobilized the radical Left and gave birth to revolutions: after WWII, the Social Democratic welfare state entered its golden age. Just remember the shock of Churchill – the authority figure in the UK who led it to victory – losing the elections in early 1945 and being replaced by Clement Attlee, a much less charismatic but effective leader of the Labour Party who was, measured by today’s standards, very radical.

Is Chile not a proof of how the combination of calamities (protests that began in October 2019, Covid-19…) can lead to extraordinary popular mobilization? The pandemic, as well as the way it was exploited by the state to squash popular protests, was a crucial factor in the rise of APRUEBO. The usual platitude that calamities bring the worst and the best out of us seems closer to truth here.

Freud himself was fully aware of this when he elaborated the complex interaction between Ego, Super-Ego and Id (to which one should add the I as different from Ego and moral law as different from Super-Ego).  His starting point is the strange phenomenon of the “unconscious sense of guilt” which

“sets us fresh problems, especially when we gradually come to see that in a great number of neuroses an unconscious sense of guilt of this kind plays a decisive economic part and puts the most powerful obstacles in the way of recovery. If we come back once more to our scale of values, we shall have to say that not only what is lowest but also what is highest in the ego can be unconscious.”[7]

Or, as he puts it later in the same text: “If anyone were to put forward the paradoxical proposition that normal man is not only far more immoral than he believes but also far more moral than he knows. Psycho-analysis, on whose findings the first half of the assertion rests, would have no objection to raise against the second half.”[8] (One should note here the use of the opposition between belief and knowledge: a normal man is more immoral than he BELIEVES and more moral than he KNOWS.) It is not that Superego is the agent of morality, and Id—the reservoir of dark “evil” drives, but it is also not that Superego stands for internalized social oppression and Id—for drives that should be liberated. Freud always insisted on the dark hidden link between Superego and Id: the unbearable pressure of the Superego sustained by the energy from the Id, plus we can also be more moral than we know. Imagine a typical postmodern permissive individual who perceives himself as a tolerant egotist searching for all kind of pleasures: a closer look quickly reveals that his activity is regulated by taboos and prohibitions he is not aware of.

However, this unconscious morality is not constrained to pathological inhibitions, of which my Ego is not aware; it also includes ethical miracles, such as resistance to commit an act I consider unacceptable, even if I pay the ultimate price for my refusal. Think of Antigone and remember, too, that Lacan, in his reading of her figure, does NOT do what one would expect from an analyst (looking for some pathological fixation, traces of incestuous desire, etc.) Rather, he tries to save the ethical purity of her NO to Creon. Or think of an irrepressible commandment one feels to do something suicidally heroic: one does it simply because one cannot not do it (risk one’s life in public protests, joining resistance against a dictatorship or occupation, helping others in natural catastrophes).

Here, again, one should resist the obvious pseudo-psychoanalytic temptation to search for some “deeper” pathological motivation that would explain such acts by, say, a combination of the death drive with narcissism. Consider, for instance, thousands of underpaid healthcare workers who help the infected, well aware that they are risking their lives, and of volunteers who offer their help. They are much more numerous than those who have submitted themselves to brutal tyrants. This is also the reason why Lacan claims that the status of the Freudian unconscious is ethical: for Lacan, Kant’s moral law is desire at its purest. 

The Struggle for Hegemony

So, what can psychoanalysis tell us about the victory of APRUEBO in Chile? Instead of a pseudo-Freudian probing into the unconscious depths of a nation, it would be productive to begin with Lacan’s notion of the Master Signifier and apply it to the space of ideology. Let us begin with a comparison between Chile and the United States.

One of the bad surprises of the US presidential elections was how many votes Trump gained also outside what people consider his constituency – among Blacks, Latinos, even the poor ones, and many women – plus how many votes Biden gained among old white men who were supposed to vote in much larger bloc for Trump. This unexpected reversal proves that Republicans are now, if anything, more of a working class party than Democrats, and that the almost symmetric 50/50 division of the US political body is not directly reflecting a class division but is the result of a whole series of ideological mystifications and displacements.[9] Democrats are much stronger than Republicans among the new “digital” capital (Microsoft, Amazon…), and they are also discreetly supported by the big banks, while many of the impoverished in the poorest parts of the US support Republican populism. The result is that in the second half of November 2020 we can read serious media reports with titles like this: “Can Trump actually stage a coup and stay in office for a second term?”[10] Before Trump’s era, such titles were reserved for the reports from so-called rogue states in the Third World. And, obviously, the US has the honor to become the first First World rogue state.  

In stark contrast to this clear 50/50 division, the victorious APRUEBO in Chile referendum got no less than 78.27% of the total votes against RECHAZO, which got only 21.73% of the total votes. What is crucial is that this enormous voting gap is directly proportional to the concentration and distribution of wealth and privileges, with a much smaller group of the population being part of the elite (the “Rejection” option) and a majority group being aware of this social inequality and injustice (the “Approval” option). So, Chile is unique not because of some exotic particularity, but, precisely, because it renders directly visible the class struggle, which is obfuscated and displaced in the US and elsewhere. Chile’s uniqueness (exception) resides in the very universality of its situation.

But here we should avoid the illusion that the disposition of votes in Chile was more “natural,” faithfully reflecting predominant class divisions, while in the US the electoral count doesn’t “reflect” faithfully the class division, but is distorted by ideological manipulations. There is nothing “natural” in political and ideological struggle for hegemony. EVERY hegemony is the result of a struggle, whose outcome is open. The victory of APRUEBO in Chile does not only demonstrate the absence of ideological manipulations, so that the distribution of votes could “faithfully” reflect class division; APRUEBO won because of a long and active struggle for ideological hegemony.

In this context, we should use Ernesto Laclau’s theory of the struggle for ideological hegemony, which is ultimately the struggle for Master Signifiers – not only which Master Signifier will predominate, but also how this Master Signifier will organize the entire political space.[11] Let’s take the obvious example: ecology, the struggle against global warming and pollution. With the exception of (more and more rare) deniers, almost everybody agrees that the ecological crisis is one of the central issues today, that it poses a threat to our very survival. The struggle turns around what Laclau called “chain of equivalences”: to which other signifiers (topics of ideologico-political struggle) will “ecology” be linked? We have state ecology (ony a strong state can deal with global warming), capitalist ecology (only market mechanisms – higher taxes on products that pollute our environment are the way out), anti-capitalist ecology (the dynamics of capitalist expansion are the main cause of our ruthless exploitation of nature), authoritarian ecology (ordinary people cannot understand the complexity of ecological crisis; we have to trust strong state power supported by science), feminist ecology (the ultimate cause of our troubles is the social power of men who are more aggressive and exploitative), conservative ecology (we need to return to a more balanced traditional mode of life), etc. The struggle for hegemony is not just the struggle to accept ecology as a serious issue, but much more the struggle for what this word will mean, how it will be linked to other notions, including science, feminism, capitalism…

The imposition of a new Master Signifier is, as a rule, experienced as “finding the right name” for what we are trying to grasp. However, this act of “finding” is productive; it establishes a new symbolic field. In Chile, the Master Signifier of the ongoing protests and of the APRUEBO movement is “dignity.” Chile is not an exception here: despite poverty, hunger and violence, despite economic exploitation, the protests that are exploding from Turkey and Belarus to France regularly evoke dignity. Again, there is nothing specifically Leftist or even emancipatory in “dignity”. If one were to ask Pinochet himself about it, he would without any doubt celebrate dignity, though by including it in a different “chain of equivalences” along the patriotic-military line: his 1973 coup saved Chile’s dignity from a totalitarian-Leftist threat. For the partisans of APRUEBO, on the contrary, “dignity” is linked to social justice that will diminish poverty, universal healthcare, guaranteed personal and social freedoms, etc. The same goes for with “justice”: Pinochet would undoubtedly advocate justice, but his kind of justice, not egalitarian economic justice. “Justice” would have meant that everybody, especially those at the bottom, should know their proper place… One of the reasons for the triumph of APRUEBO was that they won the struggle for hegemony, so that, if now “dignity” and “justice” are mentioned in Chile, they mean what APRUEBO stands for.

This, of course, doesn’t imply that political or economic struggles can be reduced to discursive conflicts. What it does imply is that the level of discourse has its own autonomous logic, not only in the sense that economic interests cannot be directly translated into symbolic space, but in a more radical sense: how economic and social interests are perceived is already mediated by discursive processes. A simple example: when a country is starving, hunger is a fact. But what matters is how this fact is experienced. Is its cause attributed to Jewish financiers? Is it perceived as a fact of nature (bad weather), or as an effect of class exploitation? Another example: only after the rise of feminism was the subordinated role of women in their families and their exclusion from social life perceived as an injustice. Before that moment, to be married to a loving husband and well provided for was considered great luck. The first step of feminism is not a direct step towards justice, but the awareness of women that their situation is unjust. In a homologous way, workers don’t protest when they live in poverty; they protest when they experience their poverty as an injustice, for which the ruling class, as well as the state, are responsible.

Those who are ready to dismiss these considerations as a step towards “discursive idealism” should remember how Lenin was obsessed with details in political programs, emphasising that “every little difference may become a big one if it is insisted on,”[12] and how one word (or its absence) in a program can change the destiny of a revolution. These words are not big central programmatic ideas; they depend on a concrete situation:

Every question ‘runs in a vicious circle’ because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain.”[13]

Remember that, in 1917, Lenin’s slogan for the revolution was not “Socialist revolution” but “land and peace”, the desire of the broad masses to own the land they were working on and to see the end of the war. History is not an “objective” development, but a dialectical process in which what “really goes on” is inextricably mediated by its ideological symbolization. This is why, as Walter Benjamin repeatedly pointed out, history changes the past, i.e., it changes how this past is present today, as part of our historical memory.[14]

Let’s imagine that Pinochet’s re-normalization remained in place and that protests that began in October 2019 were quickly suppressed. Let’s further imagine that in this process of false normalization, the figure of Pinochet himself was discarded and his coup condemned. Such a gesture of settling the accounts with the past would have meant the ultimate triumph of the legacy of Pinochet: this legacy would have survived in the constitution that grounds the existing social order. His dictatorship would have been reduced to a short violent interruption between two periods of democratic normality. But this didn’t happen, and what took place in Chile in 2019-2020 changed history: a new narrative of the past imposed itself, a narrative which “de-normalized” post-Pinochet democracy as a continuation of his rule by democratic means.

There is a wonderful expression in Serbian: “Ne bije al’ ubija u pojam. /It doesn’t beat, but it kills in the notion./” The expression refers to somebody who, instead of destroying you with direct violence, bombards you with acts that undermine your self-respect, so that you end up humiliated, deprived of the very core (“notion”) of your being. To “kill in a notion” is a spontaneously Hegelian expression: it describes the opposite of the actual destruction (of your empirical reality), in which your “notion” survives in an elevated way (like killing an enemy in such a way that the enemy survives in the minds of thousands as a hero). In short, it describes a gesture of anti-Aufhebung: what survives is your contingent empirical reality deprived of its notion. This is how one should proceed with Hitler and Nazism: not to “sublate” them (to get rid of their “excesses” and save the sane core of the project) but to kill them in their notion, to destroy this very notion. And it’s the same with Trump and his legacy: the true task is not just to defeat him (opening up the possibility that he will return in 2024), but to “kill him in his notion” – to make him visible in all his worthless vanity and inconsistency. Again, in Hegelese, to kill him in his notion means to bring him to his notion, i.e., to destroy him immanently, to allow him to destroy himself by way of just making him appear as what he is.

 To kill a movement in its notion, one needs new signifiers. Gabriel Tupinamba’s essay “Vers un Signifiant Nouveau: Our Task after Lacan” addresses precisely this problem. “Towards a new signifier” is the expression Lacan used in his seminar given on March 15, 1977[15], in the years after he dissolved his school, admitting its (and his own) failure. At the level of theory, this search for a new signifier indicates that he desperately tried to move beyond the central topic of his teaching in 1960s, the obsession with the Real, a traumatic/impossible core of jouissance that eludes every symbolization and can only be briefly confronted in an authentic act of blinding force. Lacan is no longer satisfied with such an encounter of a central gap or impossibility as the ultimate human experience: he sees the true task in the move that should follow such an experience, the invention of a new Master Signifier, which will locate the gap/impossibility in a new way. In politics, this means that one should leave behind the false poetry of great revolts that dissolve the hegemonic order. The true task is to impose a new order, and this process begins with new signifiers. Without new signifiers, there is no real social change.



[1] For a detailed analysis of this topic, see Jamadier Esteban Uribe Munoz and Pablo Johnson, “El pasaje al acto de Telémaco: psicoanálisis y política ante el 18 de octubre chileno,” to appear in Política y Sociedad (Madrid).

[2] Nicolas Fleury, Le réel insensé: Introduction à la pensée de Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris: Germina 2010, p. 96 (quote from J.-A. Miller).

[3] Op.cit., pp. 93–4.

[4] Jacques-Alain Miller, “La psychanalyse, la cité, les communautés,” La cause freudienne 68 (February 2008), pp. 109–10.

[5] Jacqueline Rose, “To Die One’s Own Death”, LRB Vol. 42 No. 22, quoted from

[6] Rose, op.cit.

[7] Sigmund Freud, “The Ego andf the Id,” quoted from,

[8] Freud, op.cit.

[9] See Mike Davis, “Rio Grande Valley Republicans,” in London Review of Books, Vol. 42 No. 22 (19 November 2020).

[10] See Can Trump actually stage a coup and stay in office for a second term? | US news | The Guardian.

[11] See Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s), London: Verso Books 2007.

[12] V.I. Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, available at Lenin: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (

[13] V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, available at Lenin: What Is To Be Done? (

[14] See Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, New York: Mariner Books 2019.

[15] See Jacques Lacan, «Vers un signifiant nouveau», Séminaire du 15.03.77, in //Ornicar? 17/18.