Statement by the League for the Revolutionary Party

May 28, 2016

Left Forum Honors Chauvinist Žižek

Slavoj Žižek, the well-known leftist and intellectual, was the invited speaker at the final plenary session of the 2016 Left Forum in New York City. Žižek thrives on controversy and is known for making incendiary comments. However, in the wake of the massive refugee crisis in Europe, Žižek has shown himself to be a European chauvinist and an enemy of the refugees. His comments, coming from one of the few near-famous leftists, provide comfort and encouragement to the racist and xenophobic attitudes growing in Europe.

The organizers of the Left Forum advertised Žižek as the “most formidably brilliant theorist to have emerged from Europe in decades.” But they failed to mention his stance on the refugees and gave him an honored spot at the forum, at a session where those who disagree will be unable to speak against his reactionary positions. They thus gave left cover to and are complicit in promoting his racism and chauvinism.

To make his comments palatable to the left, Žižek spruces them up with academic Marxist jargon and sprinkles in abstract condemnations of the West. But when it comes down to details and proposed action, Žižek’s position on refugees coming to Europe is simply a variant on the right-wing nationalist argument that these primitive foreigners will drown Europe’s superior national character:

“We must abandon the notion that it is inherently racist or proto-fascist for host populations to talk of protecting their ‘way of life’. If we don’t, the way will be clear for the forward march of anti-immigration sentiment in Europe whose latest manifestation is in Sweden, where according to the latest polling the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have overtaken the Social Democrats as the country’s most popular party. The standard left-liberal line on this is an arrogant moralism: the moment we give any credence to the idea of ‘protecting our way of life’, we compromise our position, since we’re merely proposing a more modest version of what anti-immigrant populists openly advocate.” [1]

Žižek’s argument is supposedly not that great numbers of refugees coming to Europe will swamp Europe because of their foreign culture, but rather that the reaction of the European masses to the influx will be hostile and reactionary; that’s why we can’t allow the chaotic flow of refugees to continue. In this way, Žižek adapts his positions to the most backward consciousness in Europe and proclaims that this dynamic is unstoppable.

Anyone claiming to be on the left should stand in solidarity with the oppressed refugees – and work to help European workers see that the same bosses who exploit them and are attacking their wages and benefits are the ones who decided that the flow of refugees must be curtailed. It is the imperialist capitalists whose interests are served by defending their nation and its national borders. The working class has to understand that the oppressed around the world are our brothers and sisters, not our enemies.

Žižek’s chauvinism has led him down the road to outright xenophobia. In an interview just this past April, he rejected supporting an integrated society:

“Now this may shock you, but I think this is the only consequent left, truly leftist position. I don’t think too much integration is good. I think what we need in our multicultural, mixed society is a degree of distance. My ideal today is not to live together with all different races, culture, we all love each other. No! I admit it openly. There are things about them that I don’t understand probably, there are many things that appear weird to them in what I do. I want polite ignorance, and then from time to time, of course, it’s wonderful.”[2]

For Žižek it really does boil down to a “clash of cultures”: he refuses to analyze the situation in terms of class, and instead echoes the typically unbalanced caricatures of attacks on “our very way of life” rolled out by the racist capitalist media:

“This is the case when Muslim extremists attack gays and lesbians in the Netherlands and Germany, and it is the case when traditional French citizens view a woman covered by a burka as an attack on their French identity, which is exactly why they find it impossible to remain silent when they encounter a covered woman in their midst.” [3]

The fact that the current capitalist crisis in Europe has been manifesting itself most ominously in the growth of racist far-right parties and fascist violence against refugees is here dissolved by this European “leftist,” who instead harps on the crimes of Muslim extremists and the offense taken by humble “traditional French citizens” to the wearing of the burka.

Here Žižek sounds like racists in the U.S. who blame racism on the culture of the Black community as opposed to the systemic oppression of U.S. capitalism. In a similar vein, Žižek’s positions lead him to come up with one of the favorite formulations of anti-immigrant racists in the U.S.: “If America is so bad, then why do people keep coming”:

“You know, I’m a little bit tired of this, how people say, ‘oh, Europe is dead. It’s over.’ Sorry, why then are so many people wanting to [come here] – because they still have this dream and it doesn’t matter if it’s an illusion. You know, as we all know, in politics illusions have a certain political efficiency. And this illusion is not a bad one. Europe means a land, place where you can combine a certain level of freedom, safety, with social solidarity, minimum of welfare, and so on. This part of European legacy is worth fighting for. [2]

One might expect this sort of thing to come out of the mouth of an American right-wing racist. But Marxist theorists are supposed to understand that most of the refugees are fleeing economic, political or military devastation, much of it caused by Western imperialism. The deepening economic crisis of the capitalist system drives the ruling classes of even the most powerful imperialist states to impose ever deeper austerity attacks against “their” working classes and to erect new barriers to the refugees. [4] Žižek stands with them, blaming imperialism’s victims for imperialism’s crimes.

Of course, no western chauvinist position would be complete without a practical call for military action by western imperialism:

“Third, a new type of international interventions will have to be invented: military and economic interventions that avoid neocolonial traps. What about UN forces guaranteeing peace in Libya, Syria or Congo? Since such interventions are closely associated with neocolonialism, extreme safeguards will be needed.” [5]

Žižek attacks “those who advocate open borders” because “this will never happen,” but he himself advocates a non-oppressive military and economic intervention by the UN (a tool of the imperialists), because that is presumably possible. With this delimitation of what is possible and what is not, Žižek shows us which side he is on.

At the Left Forum on May 22, Žižek was heckled by a small group of protesters, but most of the audience sat quietly or applauded him. [6] In his talk he dug himself an even deeper hole, doing a near-perfect imitation of Donald Trump:

“If you want to start exchanging insults, I can be extremely brutal, I always win. But, let’s not do it today, maybe. ... The obvious threat, that there are among refugees also terrorists, rapists, criminals, I mean this in a totally neutral way, of course there are but so what?” [7]

It is outrageous that the Left Forum gave this man a major platform. It was bad enough that in 2013 they gave the vice president of Bolivia, Álvaro García Linera, a similar honored position when he was cracking down on and slandering a popular strike of teachers, miners and others as well as engineering the usurpation of indigenous territory for imperialist profit. [8] One could believe that few attendees knew what was happening in Bolivia, but Žižek is a prominent international figure already known for courting controversy with his vulgar attacks on what he calls “political correctness.” Shame on the organizers for giving this apologist for imperialism a “left forum” for his chauvinist poison!





4. See the LRP’s May Day statement Barbaric Treatment of Refugees Exposes Inhumanity of Capitalism.


6. u3nMKN3akt8


8. See Álvaro García Linera – Enemy of Bolivia’s Workers and Indigenous Peoples and Solidarity with the Workers and Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia!.