Why There Are No Viable Political Alternatives to Unbridled Capitalism
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“Behind every rise of fascism is a failed revolution,” said the Frankfurt School thinker Walter Benjamin. Here, Slavoj Žižek revives that statement in the context of so-called Islamic fascism, or Islamic fundamentalism. What can explain the rise of groups like ISIS? The secular Islamic left, which grew in popularity through the 1950s and 60s, has weakened, if not failed, leaving no program effective enough to mobilize the millions of people needed for a popular movement.
Why has the left failed? According to Žižek, it failed to appreciate the end of the 20th century. Not only has Stalinist communism failed — today in China, the main function of the communist party is capitalist in nature, i.e. to prevent the rise of a workers’ rights party — but social democracy has also failed. The welfare state of western Europe is no longer liberal, i.e. new and progressive, but a conservative force that tries to hold onto rights that were gained decades ago. According to Žižek, life is moving too fast — through digital, scientific, and economic changes — for old rights to apply.
Finally, local democracy is no longer an applicable model of society on which the left can build a political platform. Unlike Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, who believes simple democratic reorganization of power represents a path forward for Europe, Žižek points to the immigrant crisis in Europe. Angela Merkel has defied the will of the German people to accept Syrian immigrants into her state. She has acted anti-democratically, and yet liberally.
What is ultimately needed is a new conception of the left — a new kind of progressive platform — that does not rely on old tropes. We must either rely on that, says Žižek, or prepare for the Hunger Games-inspired society which Hollywood has warned us is coming down the pike.
Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His books include Living in the End Times, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, In Defense of Lost Causes, four volumes of the Essential Žižek, and Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World.
Slavoj Žižek: I still believe in the saying of this oath Frankford School fellow traveler Marxist Valter Benjamin who said that behind every rise of fascism there is a failed revolution. I think even if we strategically, I’m not sure about it, accept this term Islam fascism for Islamic fundamentalist, this so called Islam fundamentalism is strictly relative with the disintegration of secular Islamic left, which was pretty strong in the ’50s, ’60s and so on, but then began to disintegrate. So I think we shouldn’t be too fascinated with this phenomenon. We should rather ask what happened with the left. I think this phenomenon of right wing populism are strictly the obverse of something that did not happen. They didn’t just happen, they happened because something else didn’t happen because the left didn’t provide a proper answer. And that’s for me the true tragedy today. On the one hand we are entering a period, and we are already in this period for almost ten years, where rage, discontent are exploding everywhere, even in our Western countries, Occupy Wall Street in Europe, the demonstrations in France, Greece and so on. On the other hand it is as if the left, even if it succeeds in, sometimes not always, in recapturing the energy of this rage cannot really offer a new political model that would be not only seductive enough to mobilize millions of people, but even in itself it doesn’t have enough consistency. What I’m saying is this, in Europe we didn’t yet fully accept the fact that the 20th century is over. By this I mean the following: The 20th century left, which had basically three strengths orientations, Stalinist communism, that’s over. Not only it’s over, in a beautiful irony where ex-communists are still in power they are mostly the most efficient agents of the most ruthless new liberal global capitalism…
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