Zizek on the awakening of a new authentic left in Europe

This is the most precious lesson: We need to break out of this cycle where our choices are either pro-western liberals or religious fundamentalism

Excerpted from an interesting conversation of the Greek Left Review with Slavoj Zizek and prof. Costas Douzinas.

The second quote refers to Zizek’s critique of both localist and Negrian optimism as regard to social change opportunities.


” Slavoj Zizek emphasized that social mobilization and the emergence of European solidarity among workers is the only way to break out of the vicious cycle that neoliberal technocrats and religious fundamentalists are driving the continent.

GLR: Today we’re witnessing in Britain the largest march since the Iraqi war. After a year of unrest in many European countries an image of possible solidarity appears. Is there anything to be gained by European solidarity and is this solidarity even possible? What is the European project about today?

SZ. ?? paraphrase this quote from May 68: It’s not possible, but it’s necessary. If by saying Europe we mean what is worth fighting for like egalitarian legacy, the idea of solidarity, welfare state and so on, then, maybe it’s the only thing that can give us, some hope. Europe, not only, cannot realize its project but it cannot even see what this project is. What makes me happy in this protest today is that it gives me the pleasure to correct my previous analysis which was that today in Europe you only have two choices: On the one hand the pro-capitalist liberal parties which can at the same time be progressive in issues like human rights, abortion and so on and on the other – the only moment of true passionate politics – right-wing anti-immigrant formations. My claim is that this would be a dead end if these were the only choices. It’s a great hope for Europe that some kind of radical or authentic left is awakening.

GLR While Europe is reviving and rediscovering radicalism we have revolts all over the Middle East. How can we link this huge insurrection and revolution wave in Africa to what is happening in Europe?

SZ. Obviously the “standard”, what we call the neoliberal ideological model is coming to a crisis. For me these two are kind of supplementary phenomena. Capitalism is coming into crisis in Europe, but not only. What happened in Egypt was both authentically democratic but also a call for economic justice. Yet, what I find extremely interesting is that the Egyptians and other Africans are demonstrating something much more important. Although, our official dream in the west was the silent presupposition of the western democracy, we secretly did not really want others to become like us. Until now the standard racist reaction of western Europeans was that, we would love Arabs to become democratic, but hey… they are primitive. The only way you can arouse the crowds there is either by religious fundamentalism, or anti-Semitic nationalism. So, now we get exactly what we wished for: A secular uprising, that in some cases even lifts religious divisions (Copts and Muslims are praying together in Egypt). But the result for us, is anxiety, instead of joy. “Where is this going to lead”? Not only we have a proof that all the distrust to the Arab democratic potential is false, but what is more important is that it proves that democracy is universal, it’s not our own. We desperately try to read out of the events that they want, what we want. These events are authentically democratic but they are also a call for economic justice.

Now, we need to rethink even old events, like the Khomeini revolution in Iran. It’s now clear that the Khomeini revolution was not simply a fundamentalist takeover. We should remember that for over one year and a half there was a hard internal struggle, which allowed the fundamentalist clerics to take over. The Khomeini revolution was also an emancipatrory explosion, which is now returning through the green movement and Musavi. This is the most precious lesson: We need to break out of this cycle where our choices are either pro-western liberals or religious fundamentalism.”


“I would argue that 90% of today’s leftists are effectively Fukuyamaists. Or, maybe, at least until a couple of years ago. They don’t ask the big questions. The alternate models are not clear. Even the most radical rhetoric in Porto Allegre or Seattle is basically moralistic. Is there a positive model? It’s very easy to play the card of local movements and local self-organization. This is not the model. I don’t believe in this Negrian dream that the multitude will somehow take over. We have to accept the need of some kind of regulatory apparatuses. Not only the standard dreams of social democracy and state socialism but even this dream of soviet councils, immediate local democracy has also reach its limits.

GLR How will we organize resistance in a bigger scale? And how would you characterize what the guardian calls the freedom flue?

SZ. I’m not a pessimist but I don’t think we know as much as we think we know. I don’t think we have what Frederick Jameson would have called cognitive mapping. Some leftists think we know what is going on today with new capitalism and neoliberals, we just don’t know how to mobilize people. I think we don’t even really know what is going on. In the short term I’m not an optimist. I cannot give you a recipe on what to do. All I know and on this I stand is that we will be pushed to do something, if not we will approach a new authoritarian society. This is the moment when utopias emerge. You invent utopias when you’re in deep shit and cannot do otherwise. You especially in Greece are pushed now to find ideas for popular control, the functioning of state and so on. The way they try now in Bolivia. This is my almost tragic position. I agree with you but I don’t take it as an argument to justify that therefore we should continue to live the way we do now. If we do that, I wouldn’t like to live in such a society. I think we have clear signs that we are approaching some kind of new liberal capitalism with new forms of apartheid where private freedoms will remain. You will be able to individually express any way you want but social mobilization will be less and less. “

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