[Transcript below video.]
In view of the difficult situation in which we all, in Europe, are, now I have quite many things to say. So, let me begin. Today, the very idea of a radical social transformation appears as an impossible dream, but this term (impossible) should make us think. Impossible and possible are distributed in strange ways today. One the one hand, in the domain of personal freedoms and scientific technology, we are told, again and again, how nothing is impossible: we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions; entire archives of music [and] films are available for downloading; going to space is available to everyone (OK- everyone with money). There is even this prospect of enhancing our physical-psychic abilities of manipulating our genetic base, up to the gnostic dream of achieving immortality by way of transforming our identity into a software, and then we just download ourselves into a new hardware. So, again, everything is possible.
On the other hand, especially in the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the era of maturity in which, with the collapse of communist states, humanity finally has abandoned the old millenarian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality- which means, of course, capitalist reality, with all its impossibilities: you cannot engage in large, collective acts- which, we are told, always end in totalitarian terror, cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive, and so on, and so on. So this is, for me, the basic paradox: everything is possible. Maybe, I don’t know, we will be able to live eternally, you will be able – they are already making experiments, I am not kidding, in New York, I met some surgeons- for a man to get three penises so that you can do it with three- all of this is possible, but you cannot raise the taxes to find us culture for the one percent, that’s impossible you ruin everything. So, again, our first task is to be, always, aware that when we are told “this is possible, this is not possible” we are talking about ideology, not about cold facts.
But, the crucial point to always bear in mind here is that we live in what I am tempted to call the post-political era of the naturalisation of economy. Political decisions are, as a rule, presented as matters of pure economic necessity. When austerity measures are imposed, we are repeatedly told that this is simply how things have to be done. In such conditions, the exercise of power — no longer primarily relies on censorship, but on unconstrained permissiveness. I would like to quote here my friend Alain Badiou, who wrote- passage “to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the loss governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, empire- today’s global society- no longer censors anything.
All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate, and to enjoy. We should become pitiless censors of ourselves.” And, effectively, today we seem to be at the opposite point of the ideology of the glorious 60’s. The mottos of spontaneity, creative self-expression, and so on are taken over by the system. The old logic of the system of power, reproducing itself through repression through rigidly channeling the subject’s spontaneous impetuses, is left behind. Non-alienated spontaneity, self-expression, self-realization, they all directly serve the system- which is why pitiless censorship is a sine qua non – a necessary condition- of emancipatory politics. I mean this quite seriously.
Today, we can clearly see how difficult it is, really, to imagine another world; how, when we think that our imagination exploded into another dimension, it’s really just the – what I like to call- the phantasmatic core, the innermost dream-like structure of our own society. I think that the lesson that we have to assume today in our post-revolutionary era. By this I mean the following, that’s why I advocate a paradoxical return from Marx to Hegel. Our situation is a very Hegelian one, I claim. The revolution happened, not all around but 20th century was the century of communism, of reactions to communism. Basically, the communist project failed, and our problem is how to avoid the cynical conclusion: “ok, it failed, let’s play the game, there is no alternative” – how to remain faithful to the radical emancipatory project without, of course, repeating its mistakes.
And here, I claim, we have to go to the end, which means to the beginning. Although the analysis of capitalism elaborated by Marx in his Kapital is still an unsurpassed mode, it still has its failures, its limitations. I think it can be demonstrated – which I will not do here, of course- that the implicit vision of post-capitalist – communist, however you call it, society- that you found in Marx, is still a capitalism without capitalism.
Marx correctly identified the core of capitalism as this: permanent push towards self-reproduction, self-expansion, and so on, and so on. And his idea was that, even if you take away the form of the capital, this expansive self-reproduction will explode in an even more free way. So, I think that, in a way, for Marx, literally, his vision of communism was capitalism without capitalism — that is to say, this capitalist dynamic of exploding productive power of humanity, without the capitalist form. To go very quickly through it, just a metaphor to hint, what — just an indication, this is of not an analysis – what Marx did not see is the paradox which Jacques Lacan, my teacher, identified as the paradox of what he calls OBJET A — objet kleines a — the object-cause of desire, which is an obstacle, but at the same time, a positive condition of what it is the obstacle to. Let me give you a crazy example which, I think, makes perfectly this point.
Once — it happened in Latin America, I will not tell you where — a voluptuous elder lady, I don’t know, maybe she was flirting with me, she told me that; basically, her point was that I am still beautiful and sexually attractive in spite of. And she told me that her last lover, when she saw her naked, told her that if she just were lost two or three kilos, her body would have been perfect. And I told her, “just don’t lost two or three kilos.” You often find this paradox that “two or three kilos less and your body would be perfect,” but this ideal of perfection only arises when you do have two or three kilos too much. You see my point? [If] you take away the obstacle — that small element which seems to disturb the perfection — and you lose this potential, virtual, perfection itself.
This is the paradox that Lacan is aiming at; that, you have, let’s put it in abstract terms, an ideal but some small element disturbs it — but what appears as a disturbing mediator is really the condition of an object; and it can happen at all levels, in eroticism especially. For example, a good friend of mine, when I was young, was in love with a girl – and this was still a little more of a patriarchal time, so in order to gain access to the girl, he visited her family, and talked to her Father often. He thought that the whole point is that he has to talk with her father just to have full access to the girl; but then, when the father went on a long trip, it no longer functioned with the girl. You see, what he thought – “it’s just an obstacle- oh my god, I have to go through this ritual, talking with the Father,” was not really an obstacle. The girl, as the object of his desire, entered his fantasy of desire only mediated through the Father. You take the Father – the obstacle – away, [and] you lose the object. OK; I will not go more into it now; I just want to say, at this level, how difficult it is to really imagine a new world; how often, what we present to ourselves as a radically new world is just some phantasmatic core of the old world – which means we have to abandon – break – many taboos here.
Now comes a little bit more problematic part of my talk. First, I claim [that] we should abandon not only the two main forms of the 20th century state socialism (the social-democratic welfare state, and of course, the Stalinist party dictatorship); but we should also abandon, I think so, the very standard by means of which the radical Left usually measures the failure of the first two; this libertarian vision of communism as free association, multitude, councils, reite, the anti-represent Taosianist direct democracy based on citizens’ permanent engagement. I think that the critique of political representation as passivization alienation reaches, here, its limit.
The idea to organize society in its entirety as a network of associations, councils, and so on, ignores a triple impossibility. First, there are numerous cases in which representing – speaking for others – is a necessity: it is cynical to say that victims of mass violence, from Auschwitz to Rwanda, or the mentally ill, not to mention suffering animals, should organize themselves and speak for themselves. No- somebody has to [also] speak for them. Second: when we effectively get a mass mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people self-organizing themselves horizontally — Tachrib square, Guessed square, or Sentaga square in Athens — we should never forget that they remain a minority, that the silent majority remains outside – non-represented. I am, here, much more of a pessimist: I think that the most you can get from the majority is kind of silent acceptance, but political activity is, by definition, always constrained. The third point: the permanent political engagement of people has a limited time span: after a couple of weeks, or maybe months, the majority disengages, and the problem is how to safeguard the results of the uprising at this point in time, when things return to normal. This is why I am – never was – too enthusiastic about these great moments, you know – “oh my god, we all cry; one million people on square, whatever, Sintagma square, Tahrir square – we were all one,” and so on. No! What interests me is the morning after: that is to say, the measure of a successful – whatever we call it, revolution, rebellion, revolt, social change — is how ordinary people will feel the change the morning after, when things return to normal.
And here, our fantasies reach a limit. I hope some of you saw the film, which I hate, V for Vendetta – I mean, even Tony Negri fell for it, “wonderful, multitude, rebellion” – but do you remember the final scene? Thousands of unarmed Londoners, they all wear the famous Guy Faux masks, march towards Parliament, and without orders, the military allows the crowd to pass, [and] the people takes over. OK; a nice, ecstatic moment; but to put it in brutal terms – and then the film ends – but I would be ready to sell my mother into slavery to see V for Vendetta, Part 2: what happens then? You know, it’s easy for the people to win, [but] what happens then? This is why – because, you know, you can see this precisely- at least, it was like this when I was younger in France — every honest conservative, from CCC or whatever, they are proud to say “yeah, but of course, I was on the barricades in ‘68,” and so on, you know? How to break out of this cycle where revolt – or whatever we call it, a rebellion, [etc.] – is just this momentary transgression – happy moment – carnival – and then things return to normal. All conservatives like these revolts, like, you know, “people let off their steam,” and so on.
And I think a whole list could be made of these – what I call false, inherent transgressions – like, coming from an ex-communist country, I think that political jokes played this role also, although people were arrested for telling them. I think they – political jokes, jokes against nomenclature itself, ruling nomenclature – played a very constructive role. It simply allowed people a small opening, telling the jokes and so on, so you are ready to go on in your miserable life. And there was a total fantasy which was, I learned, operative in all socialist countries. It’s wrong, for theoretical reasons – and also empirically it’s wrong – but it’s a beautiful fantasy with some correct insight. Namely, the fantasy is that, within the secret police, there was an ultra secret department whose function was to produce political jokes to keep the people satisfied: not jokes against the West, but jokes against their own party leaders, and so on. You know where this idea came to me? In Yugoslavia, which was a little bit of a special case; throughout the 80’s, when everybody saw the writing on the wall, “this is them approaching its end,” still, communist politicians tried to play this game directly.
There were a couple of politicians who tried to become more popular with the people by telling, at official meetings, jokes about themselves. I remember – I will not name him – one Croat politician who made such a fun of his visit to Germany. You must know the joke, it’s the most brutal one. He was telling, “you know what happened to me when I went to Germany? I was on a train passing Baden-Baden, and I asked my begleiter: what’s this, for a city?” He said “Baden-Baden,” you know the joke. And my reply was, “well, I am not stupid, you don’t have to tell me two times,” and so on. There is even another version of this joke: he simply thought that, in Germany, when you are asked where you are from, you have to tell the name twice. So, when the begleiter asked him where he was from, he said “I am from Zaghrib Zagrib,” but, again, my point is the absolute constructive nature of these jokes.
So, two points to conclude this part: first, we have absolutely to abandon, I claim, this vision of “we live stiff, bureaucratic, totally controlled lives; and then, carnival freedom, you know, those who are kings are now beggars, beggars are [now] kings, social hierarchy dissolves.” I think, “No! Capitalism is already a carnival of its own”. And, from my friend Boris Groys, I learned something wonderful. If some of you know, literary theory, you know that the great theorist of social carnival is Mikhail Bakhtin, one of the companion de rout of Russian formalists, in his book, on Francois Rabelais. But now, Groys told me they found some archives of Bakhtin, where you learn something quite unexpected; that Bakhtin did not simply celebrate [the] carnival as the wonderful moment of liberation, and so on. NO! His secret model for carnival were Stalinist purges in Gulag- that’s the true carnival. Today, you are a member of the central committee; tomorrow you are a traitor, nobody in Gulag, and so on. So, even in racism or fascism there is definitely a carnivalesque aspect, even to Nazism, and so on, and so on. So, that’s my first point.
The true problem is daily life: that’s really difficult to change – the ordinary, daily life – how things change there. The American film producer Sam Godwin- he is an interesting guy, he was always making stupid mistakes, or nonsenses, but now we know they were all planned, he had a nice irony – that’s one of his legends. Once, some journals attacked his films, produced by him, that there are too many old cliches in them. You know what was the memo he – Godwin – wrote to his scenario department? We urgently need new original cliches. And he was right. That’s the most difficult thing to do: new cliches – new forms which are, precisely, cliches for everyday life.
And I am even here ready to go further: I think all these dreams of local grassroot permanent engagement. I even, personally, don’t like it. Would you really like to live in a community where, every afternoon, you would have a meeting of how to organize kindergarten, how to organize electricity, this, that. No, thanks! I want to live in a nice, alienated society where all of this is done by an anonymous institution and I – read my books, watch my films, and so on, and so on. At this point we have to confront the question of democracy – I am not against democracy – the problem for me is only that democracy – well – it’s not a word which, how should I put it, divides. I claim – and I agree here again with my friend Alain Badiou – a true idea or concept divides, in the sense that you use it in order to draw a distinction between, naively, ideology and truth, or whatever. Democracy doesn’t work like that; it can designate something very authentic, I know, but we all know what other things can be covered, legitimized, with the appeal to democracy.
I claim that democracy, in a certain ideological sense, often functions in a literal Freudian sense as a fetish – you know, for Freud, fetish is the last thing you see before you see the castration, in the naive sense that a woman doesn’t have a penis, and so on, and so on. I think that, in our societies, in its everyday use, democracy is also a fetish in the sense of it’s that which prevents us to see the radicality of our social antagonisms. Let me give you an example from cinema. You know all those big Hollywood leftist blockbusters: All the President’s Men, The Pelican Grief, and so on, and so on. The story is always the same: a couple of normal people, lawyers, journalists- discover a mega-scandal which reaches up to the president of the United States. So, corruption is shown to reach the very top: so you will say, my god, wonderful, it shows the truth about American democracy. Why, then, do we feel so good after these films?
We are satisfied because the message of the film is, “what a great democratic country is our country, where a couple of ordinary guys like you and me can bring down the president, the mightiest man on earth.” That’s what false about these films. That’s why, but I don’t have time for this, although politically of course I am very sympathetic towards, Bilinke, but I have a problem – theoretical, for practical strategic reasons I have nothing against it, with a term like “democratic socialism”. Both words are suspicious for me. Democratic; it’s, again, blurring, like what democracy? Not everybody is for democracy today, it means nothing. Socialism – it’s the same. My god! I read an interview with Bill Gates, where he says, in some deeper sense, “I am a socialist.” Socialism, basically, means in its everyday ideological [usage], only something like “yeah, yeah, not just personal egotism – we should also care about community,” and so on. No! So, I agree with Autoveilingen, X K, that guy, of course I mean it in the opposite sense – that socialism is Aryan and Communism is Jewish. That’s why I have a problem with democratic socialism.
So, what do all these confusions indicate? The basic problem is the following one: the eternal story of contemporary left is that of a leader or party elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a new world – Mandela, Syriza, and so on – but then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to play the game? If one disturbs the capitalist mechanisms, one is swiftly punished by market perturbations, economic calls, And so on. Today’s protests and revolts are usually sustained by the combination, or even overlapping, of different levels. We fight for – if the country is authoritarian – for normal parliamentary democracy, we fight against racism and sexism, especially the hatred directed at immigrants and refugees, we fight for the welfare state against neoliberalism, we fight against corruption in politics and economy, we fight for new forms of democracy; and, finally, questioning the global capitalist system as such. Now, I claim, we have to avoid here both extremes. On the one hand, the abstract radical-leftist position, which basically means nothing, which is what really matters is the abolition of liberal parliamentary capitalism: all other fights are secondary. But, we should also avoid false gradualism; now we fight for simple democracy, forget your socialist dreams, they come later, and so on, and so on.
The problem is, nonetheless, this one: let’s take the big revolts of the last year, like Takhrib square in Egypt. It’s easy to mobilize the people against corruption, unfreedom, humiliation, and so on. But then, the entire strategy of global capitalist system is that you get literally what you wanted but, at a different- no, deeper – level, things do not really change. This is the crucial moment of disappointment that I designated in the title of my talk today – as “How to go beyond Mandela” – ANC in South Africa the price was to accept global capitalist coordinates. How to go further than that, without becoming Mugabe- this ridiculous excess of false liberation, of perverted liberation struggle.
The tragedy is that the ruling ideology today uses all its instruments to block- to prevent- this radicalization. They tell us that, uh- i mean the latest theory is – my preferred one- is the developed by Maurizio Lazzarato in his The Rise of the Indebted Man- this idea of self-entrepreneurship, that in a modern democratic society, the difference between capitalists and workers is basically only a quantitative one. The idea is this- Let’s say I’m a poor worker, and then you get indebted, take a credit for 20k euros, and then you are free to do whatever you want with it, you can invest it into your health, into a big holiday, into better healthcare for your children, into universities for your children. so the idea is, even a modest worker is a self-entrepreneur, a small capitalist. We are all capitalists, responsible for our free choices, responsible for our destiny and so on and so on. And this is where ideology is operative today. For example, take the so called theory, not of __, but the English version with Anthony Giddens. His point- and it’s a wonderful ideological trick- they present you the very new forms of exploitation as freedom. For example, its very difficult – as we know, it’s less and less possible today to get a permanent job. The tendency of capitalism is to move towards the predominance of so-called precarious work, you get one, two years’ contract, you are never sure, and so on and so on. This then is presented to you as a new freedom. Anthony Giddens developed this, like ‘isn’t this wonderful, you are not like a cliche reduced to permanent role – every two years you can reinvent yourself, you can, you know? Oh, oh, for example you don’t get universal healthcare. Isn’t this wonderful you can make a free decision; do you prefer healthcare or do you prefer a holiday? Or whatever. You see the trick? The trick is that actual unfreedom is presented to you as the growth in your freedom. So, what should we do?
Here comes my point, especially in times like today. What works for us is that, nevertheless, capitalism is inconsistent, it’s necessarily inconsistent, it breaks its own rules all the time. You have democracy but you have places where there is no democracy, and so on, and so on. What we should be doing today mostly is not wait for the big revolution, but find what I would like to call, again, following Badiou, la poing do possible the points of impossibility in the system. Which means, apparently, small specific demands which appear totally realistic but for a concrete society they are the sensitive points.
Here i even have a soft spot for Obama, the president. I mean, some of the leftist critics of Obama are a little bit stupid- they behave as if, what did they think, that Obama would introduce communism into the united states? No! Remember or, if you followed it, for example, the point of impossibility for the United States, already north for Canada, point of impossibility in the sense of something which is unbearably traumatic for the predominant ideology was obviously universal healthcare. You know what happened to Obama for insisting on universal healthcare? He was brought to the supreme court, and so on- it was traumatic. And nobody can accuse him of socialism or whatever- although many an idiot actor like Chuck Norris did accuse him of introducing communism.
But what I want to say is that- I want to refer here to the wonderful scene of science fiction films- you live in an artificial reality and then, if you tax a wrong object, all of reality di – like, you are in a room, and there is a button. You press that button and walls start to fall down, the )) disintegrates. But it’ a modest point, and that works. And of course different countries, situations, have different points of impossibility. This is where we should begin – because it’s a demand which is totally legal- it’s not prohibited – like there is nothing illegal in demanding universal health service in US. And again each situation has its each point of impossibility. like in a country like turkey, ordinary multiculturalism – the rights for Croats and other minorities is another point of impossibility, and so on and so on. But what I want to tell you is, and this is also my memory from – I wasn’t a great dissident but some kind of dissident, smaller- in ex Yugoslavia.
I remember there, at least in last decade – this may shock you – communists easily tolerated big demands. Like, if you wrote – I’m not kidding, this literally happened – if you wrote a treatise claiming “Yugoslav communism is more oppressive than Stalinism, it’s more refined way, Communist project is the greatest catastrophe in humanity,” and so on and so on. They basically give you for the plane ticket to go to the West to some anti communist congress – nobody cared about that. But if you said, naively, like “as a communist, I don’t like that specific law. Change that specific law. Or that specific…” Totally modest demand; totally justifiable by the ruling ideology, even- and you risk to be arrested, and so on. So, we had – that was a big lesson for me – we have a whole a small class – dozens, but nonetheless – of let’s call them official dissidents, they made a pact with nomenclature. Like, yes you do- you know, all that open society, from Plato, Rousseau, Marx, bad guys, catastrophes, and so on- you do all this, we don’t care, just don’t be too concrete here, with small demands, and so on, and so on. And here, because of this inconsistency of capitalism, it’s worth – but we should be very careful which fights we select.
It’s worth fighting this apparently modest fights. Sometimes- this would be my ultimate Hegelian — self-referential irony – even capitalism can be used against capitalism. I remember one of my most depressing experiences when, 15 years ago, I think I I watched on CNN – CNN was a little bit better than it is now, at that point – I remember a report on Mali where the minister of agriculture of Mali said, “listen, we don’t want any state intervention or help from you; just follow your own rules.” He said, “Because Mali produces excellent cotton, and it’s difficult for them to export it. why? Because Americans subsidize their cotton producers- they give to them as financial aid more money than the entire state budget of Mali.” So his message was “just follow your own market rules!” You know? Anything can be used here. Or another topic: slavery.
We know the paradox of capitalism: how slavery, which more or less (careful) disappeared around the 15th century, we know how, ever since the beginning of capitalism onwards slavery exploded; and I claim that now in a way it’s returning- a slightly different form, but its returning. I saw this when I visited, Dubai, Qatar, and those places. These are De facto slave societies. The majority of people there are legal but apartheid-excluded workers from Nepal to Indonesia and so on, who are totally deprived of all rights and so on, passports taken from them – they can be arrested, deported, whatever. total exploitation. Not to mention other forms. Not even only in third world Arabia — Africa, like massive slavery, de facto slavery in Congo, and so on. But do you remember in December of 2013, when seven people died in a Chinese owned clothing factory in an industrial zone close to [Prato?]… why did they die? Because were de facto slaves, they lived in a small house made out of remainders of wood, and so on, and then, shocked, they discovered that they have the whole slave camps in the suburb of [Prato]. So i think we shouldn’t be too pessimistic. Again: the big art is to find that button, to insist on small – well-chosen, small – points where everyone has to agree with you. Like today for example with the refugees.
Of course, I am for refugees – their rights- and I am glad to be here. I was glad to hear what this theatre is doing for them, allowing them to sleep here, helping them, and so on. But isn’t the enigma – for example – refugees escaping (from) Syria and Iraq. Ok, I will not go through the usual story about how the West is co-responsible for that crisis. But what I wanted to say is but what about, do you know what happens, why don’t they go..? do you know that the countries which have the same religion as many of the refugees- Sunni Muslims- extremely wealthy countries, let’s enumerate them – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Emirates- they practically accept no refugees; and they are deeply involved in the crisis which generates the refugees. Like, we know the role Saudi Arabia plays in financing some opposition to Assad in Syria, and so on and so on. So, what about focusing on this point?
For me, Saudi Arabia is almost a kind of ontological abomination today – a country which is a kind of political equivalent- you know, those monsters which are sometimes born, like a cow with two heads and three legs, or whatever. Why? Because, on the one hand, it is, it presents itself as a traditional Muslim country- Orthodox, Sunni, Islam, and so on. But at the same time it’s a country which is basically an outpost of Western banks, investing money, it’s a country which is financial capitalism at its purest. Did you know that Saudi Arabia owns almost ten percent of the entire value – all factories, and so on- of the United States. What about intervening a little bit strongly there? I mean, when people criticize Iran today – I am critical of Iran for curtailing women’s rights, and so on- but I can tell you that Iran is a feminist paradise compared with Saudi Arabia, and so on. Do you see?
What I am aiming at- here we approach theory, I do not have time to go into it- is how, what opens up the space for radical political interventions today is the fact that capitalism can less and less stick to its own universality. For example, idea of capitalism even for Marx was we are all formally free- workers- the slavery enters – we all have the same political rights- slavery enters through wage labor, and so on, and so on. Isn’t it clear that now with all these new forms of Apartheid, special economic zones and so on, and so on, that world capitalism can, less and less, afford even this ideological form of democracy? We are getting newer and newer forms of Apartheid, and so on and so on. So now I come to the crucial point of my talk: how to coordinate this multitude of struggles. I would like to refer here to a wonderful new film – I saw a rough version, it’s not yet finished – of my friend, the Jewish, anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian movie maker Udi Aloni. He’s just finishing the film, Junction 48, which will be officially shown at the next – in February now – Berlin film festival. It deals with the difficult predicament of young Israeli Palestinians – Palestinians who are settled within Israel in the borders of 49 pre-67’ – and whose everyday life involves a continuous struggle at two fronts: again Israeli state oppression as well as against fundamentalist pressures within their own community.
The main role is played by Tamer Nafar, a well-known Israeli Palestinian rapper who, in his music, not only deals with Israeli oppression but also attacks – mocks – the tradition of honor killings of Palestinian girls by their families. Then, and that’s why I’m telling you this story- a strange thing happened to Nafar during a recent visit to the United States. At some college – I think it is UCLA I’m not sure – after Nafar performed his song protesting honor killings, some anti-Zionist students reproached him for promoting the Zionist view of Palestinians as barbaric primitives. Their line was that ‘if there are any honor killings among Palestinians, Israel is responsible of them, since the Israeli occupation gives Palestinians in primitive conditions,’ and so on, and so on. You know, this was typical pseudo-radicalism of white wealthy students in a rich American university; and Nafar gave them a dignified, wonderful reply. I quote it literally: “When you criticize me, you criticize my own community in English to impress your radical professors. I sing in Arabic to protect the women in my own hood.” So an important aspect of Nafar’s position is that he is not just protecting Palestinian girls from family terror. He’s allowing them to fight for themselves, to take the risk. It’s not a patronizing position. And, again, the film deals with all of it.
So, that’s the problem: this tension between, you know that’s my problem- on the one hand, struggle with the oppressed people, and so on, and so on. On the other hand, we have our own struggles: feminist struggles, struggle against religious fundamentalism, and so on, and so on. What I absolutely do not accept is this idea that on behalf of a greater struggle- anti-imperialist struggle- we should somehow abstain from advocating our feminist, gay rights, and so on, struggles. As my- now you will say, “nobody advocates for this” – no, maybe not publicly. Practically the majority of my leftist friends tell me privately, “you know, I know they have honor killings, religious oppression, but you know it’s not the time to emphasize this too much.” It happens to me all the time, and I think we should break this taboo. I think the multiculturalist defense of different ways of life covers up the antagonisms within each of these particular ways of life.
Let me give you an example. Now we come to Mugabe. Mugabe recently gave a talk at the United Nations general assembly, and basically his talk was a justification for brutal homophobia but formulated in anti-colonial struggle terms. A quote from Mugabe: “respecting and upholding human rights is an obligation of states. And it’s enshrined in the United Nations charter. Nowhere does the charter arrogate the right to some to sit in judgement over others in carrying out this universal obligation. In that regard, we reject the politicisation of this important issue (homosexuality) and the application of double standards to victimize those who dare to act and think independently of the self-anointed prefects of our time. We reject the attempts to prescribe new rights (he means gay rights) that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions, and beliefs,” and then he emphasized, “we are not gays. Cooperation and respect for each other will advance the cause of human rights worldwide. Confrontation, vilification, and double standards will not.” What can Mugabe’s emphatic claim, “we are not gays,” mean with regard to the fact that there are many gays in Zimbabwe?
It means, of course, that gays are reduced to an oppressed minority whose acts are often directly criminalized. But one can understand the underlying logic; the gay movement is perceived as the cultural impact of globalization and as a way [that] globalization undermines traditional social and cultural forms. So the conclusion is, “the struggle against gays is an aspect of the anti-colonialist struggle,” and the same even holds for Boko Haram. For certain radical Muslims, the liberation of women appears as the most visible feature of the destructive cultural impact of capitalist modernization. Therefore, Boko Haram, which, I hope you know what the name means – it can be roughly translated as “Western education,” of women specifically, is forbidden – Boko Haram can perceive itself as the way of fighting the destructive aspect of capitalist modernization. But the idea is that hierarchic regulation of the relation between the two sexes is how you fight capitalism.
This paradox, I think, at least, should get us to think: mainly, the paradox that we have movements today – not only in Muslim countries, up to a point even in Putin’s Russia, where what they really find unbearable in the West is not military interventions, is not global capitalist economy, but what they call this liberal dissolute immoral way of life. For example, in the short book on Islam that I published with Hornstein, I quote it there, [Homoini?]- it’s a very important passage- he said “we do not fear Western military superiority, we can fight that, we have markets; we do not fear Western economic imperialism, we can organize ourselves; what we do fear is the dissolute Western way of life.” And the sad thing is that- and you can detect this even in how Putin and the Russian establishment reacted to the victory of that ridiculous singer you remember Conchita Vous Eurovision- I have no sympathy for him/her, here I am a conservative. But nonetheless I know how all of a sudden – and Boko Haram is the extreme example of this – sexual became political but not in sense of the 60’s, but in a very paradoxical way- that the basic political program of escaping capitalist decadence is to re-introduce proper hierarchy in relations between sexes.
Here, I will go to the edge of what is problematic in what I’m saying; here I remain a Eurocentrist. In what sense? Of course – I totally agree with this – refugees should enjoy the same rights as the members of diverse communities that make up Europe. So, I admire what you are doing, I am engaged in doing this, I am even ready to adopt the radical leftist view and make the claim that it’s even wrong to treat them as foreign refugees- no! they are part of us – we are co-responsible for that situation. It’s not this Derridean- Jacques Derrida- topic of hospitality where a foreigner comes, and you have to be kind to him. No! They are part of our world! We do not even have the right to treat them as coming from another world. But the catch for me is this one: yes, they have to enjoy the same rights as all of us, but which, exactly, are these same rights? While Europe is now fighting for full gay and women’s rights- the right to abortion, same sex marriage, and so on- should these rights also be extended to gays and women among the refugees even if they are in conflict with the customs they bring with themselves, and again this aspect should in no way be dismissed as marginal. I am here, again, for a certain level of Eurocentrism: yes, you should have the same rights, but also your women should have the same rights, also your gays among you should have the same rights, and so on, and so on. Now, of course they are quite justified in saying ‘but this is Eurocentrism’- because, they will say, ‘in our traditional universe, collective rights play a stronger role than individual rights; by allowing so much freedom to individuals, you already undermine our culture’. No! I think here we should insist on our own. I am not afraid to say this, even if some idiots are already proclaim me that I am passing over to Bha-Gita. Oh my god.
Another taboo that must be overcome involves the equation of any reference to European emancipatory legacy as cultural imperialism and racism. I know – I’ve written about it – in what way Western liberalism justifies colonialism, and so on, and so on. But I wonder why is it exactly now that it is so fashionable to be a critique of Eurocentrism. My claim is that in this situation today a certain degree of eurocentrism is worth defending. Why? Because I see this globalization – almost- of anti-eurocentrism as an indication of a very sad fact: that today’s global capitalism no longer needs democracy, equality, and so on, but functions quite well with an authoritarian structure. Today, for me, the ideal capitalist would have been who? Like the Indian PM, Modi, who is, at the same time, in economy a radical neoliberal- he openly said “the chance for India is to have even a cheaper labor force than China- to sell them to Western companies millions of Indians,” and so on and so on. At the same time, he’s clearly a Hindu nationalist, and so on. So, isn’t it, for me, so symptomatic that one tends to reject western cultural values at very the moment when, critically re-interpreted, many of those values – egalitarianism, and so on – can serve as a weapon against capitalist globalization.
Did we already forget that the entire idea of communist emancipation, as envisaged by Marx, is a radically Eurocentric one? I claim, paradoxically – and I am ready to defend to death this paradox – that enlightened self-critical Eurocentrism is the only way to really break out of Eurocentrism. I agree with the basic point – I repeated it endlessly – that the true danger to Europe are not Muslim terrorists or Muslim invasions – the true danger to Europe are the fundamentalist anti-immigrant defenders of Europe. Let’s be clear: that’s what I fear, no doubt about it; but precisely because of this. I am not afraid to claim ‘no, sorry, it’s not enough to just play this endless game of self-humiliation’. ‘Yes, we europeans are guilty for everything, all our values are fake values, the more we think we are free, the more we are enslaving others,’ and so on and so on. Don’t we see that the very way we criticize ourselves is rooted in European tradition?
I think that the best way to criticize actual imperialism is through being faithful to the emancipatory core of European tradition. Because, you know, cultural imperialism never had any problem with cultural diversity. I discovered in India that – you know that, in 18th century, traditional Hindi hierarchy was already disappearing. Then, when the British colonized India, they had a very intelligent idea – that the only way to control Indians, it’s not to let Indian society to disintegrate into modernization- in this way you would have proletarians, you would have Western politicization- but to take care that the majority of Indians will remain faithful to their caste society, and so on. So, one of the most horrible books of ideology of all time- the lost legal system of Manu– the total manual with all sub-differences of caste society with all the rules – was resuscitated in 19th century by the British colonizers.
So, now to conclude, if you allow me a little bit more time, and this will be a little bit more amusing, but also I hope, problematic for you. I want to move at the deeper level of, let’s say, anthropological level. I find when precisely we are dealing with refugees and other foreigners- what makes me absolutely tired, and although it sounds nice, it’s politically catastrophic, I claim; is this accent on humanitarian compassion and so on, and so on. No! This idea of- let me give you the formula which condenses the evil, for me. It sounds like a very deep formula. The formula is, “an enemy is someone who’s story you have not heard’, it sounds so deep, you know? Other people are foreigners for us, but listen to their story, and you will see. This is one of the greatest stupidities that you could imagine. How? Just apply it to a guy, a well known German politician who, I was told by Carl Heines, the myth is that he stayed at the same hotel I am stay here at: Reichshof. Hitler. Are you ready to say Hitler was our enemy because we were not ready to listen his story?
No! Sorry, there are enemies, real enemies. What does this mean? That the truth of what you do is not in the story – they read too much deconstructionism, these idiots – it’s not that we are the stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves. We are the horror we are doing and we construct the stories to obfuscate the true horror of what we are doing. The truth in what we are doing – there is always a story. It is always wonderful to read – I have written a text on it – how, behind every ethnic cleansing, there are some poets. Why? Because, you know, basically – I hope so- we are not totally bad; like, if someone were to tell me now to go pick out that guy’s eyes and eat them, well, I would find it a little bit difficult. So what I need is a strong poetical-religious myth which enables me to perceive the horror that I will do as the ultimate ethical sacrifice. And for this, you need mythologists, you need poets – it’s not only a caricature of Bosnia, everyone has its own caricature. So, my point is what? That we don’t need more understanding, and so on.
This is, again, this liberal trick of ‘oh, we never enough understand the other,’ and so on, and so on. I am here, for a return to, in all provocative content, of this Judeo-Christian notion of neighbor. Neighbor in Judeo-Christian tradition is not a fellow man, is not a guy who is like you. You encounter a neighbor when you see the abyss in the Other. You know? Let’s say I have a friend; I think I know him. Then all of a sudden that friend does something either horrible or maybe sublime, but he appears as a stranger to me, like ‘my god, I didn’t know he was like that.’ At that point, you see the neighbor. In this sense, that stupid postmodern phrase has some truth in it: we are not only strangers to others but strangers to ourselves. This is why whenever you hear of universal love, and comprehension, and so on, there is something false about it.
I would like to live in a society where – and I often did – in a big apartment house where there is an Indian here, an Arab there, a Jew there, a Latino American there – but I don’t want to understand them. I want polite distance; respect. Maybe, from time to time, I get close to someone, but it’s a miracle. How can we understand each other fully when we don’t even understand ourselves? I don’t think a foreign culture, ours included, should focus on some hidden core that we should fully understand, and so on, and so on. No! The whole point is to maintain a proper distance- and especially, I think, this holds for refugees. You know, this idea of ‘but refugees are not so bad – listen to them, they are people like us.’ Oh, I am so afraid of this – no, no, precisely because I am for refugees. Because, you know, then you always discover, of course, that, my god, refugees are shitty people like us: some are good, many are bad, of course if you get hundreds of thousands of them, there will be rapists, and so on, among them. Respect their otherness, not their sameness. Don’t play this game – which is always an ideological game – of ‘we are all humans.’
You know where I learned this lesson? When I was in Israel, a weird thing happened – reported in all the media there – an Israeli anti-terrorist unit entered a Palestinian home because they suspected the father of the family is a terrorist. And he was not at home, the father- but there was the mother with some children. And, of course, when soldiers brutally enter your apartment you are in a panic, so the girl starts to shout and cry and the mother called her – I don’t know what – by name, “oh come to me, everything OK.” And then came the kitsch: you know, like, ‘an Israeli soldier discovered that, my god, this girl has the same name as my own girl, and she showed the mother the photo: you see, we are human, all, and so on, and so on.’ This is falsity at its purest. The true ideology is not ‘we are not just figures of ideology, we are all humans’. No! Differences matter; we are not all humans in this same sense. That’s the respect to the others: where you don’t accept this simple universalization, and so on, and so on. The most – again- the most dangerous thing is to idealize the other- that’s through actual racism, for me. Like, open yourself to them, and so on. No! Treat them respectfully, absolutely admit them in their otherness, and so on, and so on.
So, just to, now, really to conclude, with two problematic points concerning the refugees. Another way of idealizing the refugees is – and many of my radical leftist friends play this game, I am horrified at this – the idea is this one. I will not name them, it would be embarrassing. Many of my radical leftist friends – they tell me this secretly, privately, very well known names, but I will not mention them – is that, you know, today there is such a crisis that we cannot arouse people to be more radical, that we need a mega catastrophe- ecological, or atomic incident, millions dead- the only thing that will move people. And some of them now included refugees into this. Like, a friend recently wrote to me, ‘let’s bring ten million refugees in europe, and they will form the base of the new revolutionary working class.’ And I said, ‘Ah! That’s it. you are a Marxist, [but] you don’t have a revolutionary working class, so let’s import one.’ I mean, it’s… absurdity.
The second thing: precisely out of respect for the refugees, I claim that I am tired of this Habermasian – and of some others – motif of so-called ‘democratic deficit’ of European Union. The basic idea is, ‘European Union is okay, it just has a democratic deficit.’ This reminds me of my old communist colleagues, from the times of real socialism, when they said ‘Soviet Union, it’s basically okay, it just has a little bit of a democratic deficit.’ No! The point is that this democratic deficit is part of the system. And I am even ready to go further here. I had, recently, a debate – two or three days ago – with Yanis Varoufakis and Assange in London where, I think Varoufakis, my very good friend, was a little bit naive; because his point (of Varoufakis) was that Europe has to democratize itself- render all of it transparent, and so on, people should decide. But then I told him about my very sad experience; maybe some of you read it.
I gave it about a month ago when at [..?], and then they asked me to answer some leaders’ questions. Then they told me one question addressed at me which evoked most of the interest among the leaders – they gave hundreds of replies to it. It was precisely a democratic question, but an anti-immigrant democratic question. It was the question, “if we live in democratic society, who authorized angle-America to call hundreds of thousands of people to move to Germany? He should be prosecuted!” and so on, and so on.” Now, Varoufakis’ answer was, “this is confusion. If there really were to be a referendum, Mercel would have won here.” I doubt it, I am simply more of a pessimist. I simply think, “No! Majority can be wrong, and most of the time, maybe even, it is wrong.” This doesn’t mean we need an enlightened communist party to lead them. We have to accept this – that, you know, to make democracy work, many other things have to work. Democracy in itself doesn’t necessarily change things for the better.
So, to conclude, just two things – I hope you will find them amusing – two quotes. The first one: the best reply [to the question of] what to do for the refugees is – I hope you know, you should read it – Oscar Wilde, his wonderful short text the soul of man under socialism where, in the opening lines, he points out that, “it is much easier to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought”. And here is the quote: “people find themselves surrounded by terrible poverty, by ugliness, by starvation- it is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all of is. Accordingly, with admirable though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease – they merely prolong it. Indeed, the remedies are part of the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty by, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution- it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try and reconci- reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible, and the altruistic virtue have really prevented the carrying out of this aim.” That’s my point of capitalism, and so on. Of course, we should unconditionally help the refugees, but the solution is not the world to the same and we just help the refugees.
We will have to do more- change the economic system – I do not know in what way. And my last point- this is the saddest point- there is genuine hatred, Jews-Palestinians, third world, and so on. What came to my mind here is a very sad lesson. Look- it’s the last page, don’t be afraid. I recently read Ruth Kruger- she survived, as a girl, Auschwitz. Her memoir is Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered where she describes, after she survived after world war two Germany, a conversation with some doctoral student here in Germany. Here is the quote: “one reports how in Jerusalem he (this student) made the acquaintance of an old Hungarian Jew who was a survivor of Auschwitz – and yet this man cursed the Arabs and held them all in contempt. ‘How can someone who comes from A talk like that?,’ The German asks. I get into the act and argue. But what did he expect? Auschwitz was no educational, instructional institution: you learn nothing there. And list of all humanity and tolerance: absolutely nothing good came out of the concentration camps. And there is no catharsis – the sort of thing you go to theatre for – they [the camps] were the most useless, pointless, establishments imaginable.” I think this is a crucial prejudice that we have to abandon. No! There is nothing noble in suffering as if when you sin that you will emerge as a wise man, understanding. No! Auschwitz- and that’s also the horror of Auschwitz- it’s not just what it does to you from the outside. There is no ethical greatness in it, like this heroism enabled people survive it, and so on, and so on.
This is what is so horrible about suffering: it doesn’t produce poor people but poor people who, because they experienced suffering, they know how to be good. No, it ruins you from the inside. That’s why the worst thing you can do is – [while] dealing with refugees or with poor among us – is to idealize them, ‘they are poor, but they have a certain nobility,’ and so on and so on. No; the problem is to accept that they don’t have this nobility – but precisely because they were ruined by the system, and so on? No! It’s not as easy as that, as it is, you know the classic Hollywood Kitsch Frank Capper films, where the idea is, ‘poor people are really wonderful, good- you just have to hear them to discover their inner beauty.’ No, there is no inner beauty. Thank you very much.
[Transcription by Thomas Matthews, Rhodes College.]