Slavoj Žižek on Castro’s death (+ transcript)

[Transcript below video.]

RT: Joining me live now here on the programme on RT International Slavoj Žižek – a philosopher and international director at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. Great to see you today. Thanks for coming on the programme. Let’s discuss the breaking news here, Mr. Žižek, that over the death of Fidel Castro, the age of 90. Socialist ideas seem to be gaining traction around the world. Take the rise of Bernie Sanders in America, for example. What do you think Castro’s death could mean to people today who are attracted to leftist ideas?

Zizek: 'Castro should be forgotten as soon as possible.' Click To TweetSlavoj Žižek: Unfortunately, as much as of course Fidel Castro was a fascinating personality and so on, I think that at the level of his ideas, his political practice, and I’m sorry if I offends some of my leftist friends with this, he should be forgotten as soon as possible. You know why? Because, again, I know what is to admire, heroic leftist stance, a small country resisting the world’s biggest superpower, and so on. But ask yourself sincerely, did Cuba produce anything new in the sense of a new model of social practice in economy, in culture, in political democracy, and so on and so on? When I visited Cuba a little bit over 10 years ago, what really depressed me was not human rights violations and so on, even not economic efficiency, but this general sense of stagnation. Nothing moved, people were just waiting. No creativity, no activity in economy, in culture, and so on. It was country just, as the Germans put it, in ‘Stilstand’ – sitting, waiting. And you know what depressed me even more? I spoke there with some people, who were I think ordinary people, and I noticed we walked in some Havana streets, and I noticed how many buildings are falling down and so on. And they told me, ‘but you see that’s our heroic greatness, things are falling down, even old buildings you cannot repair them, but no matter how much we suffer, how much we have to renounce, we remain faithful to our revolutionary cause.’

RT: Mr. Žižek, doesn’t that tell you something though? Obviously you’re talking about your visit to Cuba. You’re talking about failed and old antiquated infrastructure. You’re talking about a stalled economy here. But then you’re mentioning that people are saying ‘this is thanks to our great leader.’ So not in some way the people … it’s not so important to them the standards of living as it is the reverence to who was Fidel Castro.

Zizek: 'the real test of a revolution is when big events are over' Click To TweetSlavoj Žižek: Yeah, but again, when a regime … revolution … legitimizes itself by this reference to suffering as you see, ‘even our economic decay proves our greatness,’ this is a very sad situation, which is why if I make a remark, which sounds maybe tasteless, but I think it’s deeply tragic … In psychoanalysis, we call this reference to renunciation ‘symbolic castration.’ So basically the regime’s legitimization was legitimization which … or fidelity to castration. Well, no wonder the leader was called Fidel Castro. It’s a very sad thing, you know, because Castro was great in mobilizing people, big events and so on and so on. If there is a lesson to be learned from the fiascos of the 20th century is that the real test of a revolution is when big events are over. What happens after the wild night when things return to normal. How do things change in everyday life for the people.

RT: Well, I suppose Mr. Žižek, that that should potentially be the next question. What is next for Cuba then?

Slavoj Žižek: I don’t think there is a big thing. There are just the obvious choices: either, but I don’t think they will, they walk carefully around this North Korean way, softly into capitalism, not quite; they go full way the Chinese way, party remains in power, but economy is liberalized; or they are they openly embrace Western liberal democracy, which I think is also very dangerous. Because it’s clear that then the pressure of the United States’ human immigration to reprivatize all and so on, would be a catastrophe. I can just hope that some soft way will be negotiated where in spite of reintroducing capitalism some social achievement …

RT: Alright, Mr. Žižek, let’s jump back into the … just quick … briefly here. Because ultimately the improvement, the so-called improvement of America-Cuba relations – John Kerry in July this year reopened the US Embassy in Havana. Of course it was closed in 1961. We now have Donald Trump poised to man the helm in the White House. Not just a future of Cuba, what is the future of Cuba-America relations?

Zizek: 'the great problem of today's left: great at mobilizing the people, but unable to propose a new efficient socio-economic system' Click To TweetSlavoj Žižek: Well, I don’t know enough about it, I just think that paradoxically, if Trump imposes a harsher line, it may paradoxically even give an upper hand to hardliners in Cuba. I think that every intelligent anti-communist in United States knew that Obama’s way was the right way to undermine the system from within. So I .. but again, the choice will be the choice of Cubans themselves. The predicament of Cuba is for me just a sign, an indication, a symptom if you want, of the great problem of today’s left – from SYRIZA to Latin America: great at mobilizing the people but then the inability to propose a new efficient socio-economic system.

RT: So you’re talking essentially, you’re describing socio-economic stagnation when it comes to standard of living in Cuba. And as you suggest the wider region to Latin America as well. You’re not painting a very rosy picture of Fidel Castro. Fair enough. We’ve been getting mixed reaction incoming from all around the world today Mr. Žižek. In fact, some media outlets calling today ‘the death of a tyrant.’ Did you think that’s potentially an image that will dominate?

Slavoj Žižek: No, no, no. I don’t go so far. I’m still a leftist. Even I try to be a communist. I look I draw here a clear line between communism and fascism. Fascism, where to put it simply, bad people who promised to do bad things, they took power, they did bad things. Communism is even at its worst, even in Stalinism and elsewhere a genuine tragedy. Things which were meant in a noble way, which had emancipatory potential, turned terribly wrong. And I hope that we will use Castro’s death also as an instigation to rethink what went wrong and how to do it better.

[Appeared on RT on November 27th 2016.]