Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Slavoj Žižek on Ukraine and NATO.

with 5 comments

Žižek: “For me, John Lennon’s mega-hit Imagine was always a song popular for the wrong reasons. Imagine that “the world will live as one” is the best way to end in hell.”

Recently keen Spotters noticed this, Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic, is a contributing editor of Compact magazine. What is the nature of this journal? “The magazine was co-founded by Marxist populist Edwin Aponte, former editor of the conservative ecumenical journal First Things, Matthew Schmitz, and conservative opinion journalist Sohrab Ahmari.” The paper promotes a mixture of contrarianism, confusionism, national populism and red-brown ideas. A case in point. Reaction to the US Supreme Court decision to allow the banning of abortion, ” “Legal abortion ensured that nothing need come before a woman’s career.” “Feminism, which once envisioned alternatives to capitalism, is now invoked to justify capitalism’s present form. It maximizes profits while promising liberation. The destruction of the family wage, hailed as a sign of progress for women, created a larger and cheaper labor pool.” Matthew Schmitz.

Let us flesh this out by pointing to some names some of whom perhaps only known to a British and Irish audience, “Slavoj Žižek joined anti-rootless cosmopolitan campaigner Paul Embery (Blue ‘Labour’) , Thomas Fazi, ‘left’ Brexit ultra published by Pluto, Conspiracist Glen Greenwald, and frequent Fox News guest, and, the creams on the tart: How NATO Lost Its Way Peter Hitchens. and Ukraine Is the Ruling Class’s Latest Propaganda Ploy Lee Smith.”

Smith’s squib had hardly got into its first sentences before he talked of “the all-out effort to promote Ukraine’s cause in America—an effort grafted on to a long series of ongoing propaganda campaigns deployed by US institutions and industries against the same target: the American public. These campaigns have used the same methods, personnel, platforms, and even catchwords to deceive, harass, and punish working- and middle-class Americans to the benefit of the country’s increasingly powerful ruling oligarchy.”

One imagines that Žižek’s old mucker Smithy is not too happy with this, “Pacifism is the wrong response to the war in Ukraine Slavoj Žižek. The least we owe Ukraine is full support, and to do this we need a stronger Nato.”

Now many agree with Stand with Ukraine, just about everybody (bar some confusionnistes and red-browners – see above). Emotionally it is a red-hot issue; the solidarity and warmth we feel for the victims is tragically reinforced with today’s news about the Russian attack on the Kremenchuk shopping centre.

“The disorientation caused by the Ukrainian war is producing strange bedfellows like Henry Kissinger and Noam Chomsky who “come from opposing ends of the political spectrum – Kissinger serving as secretary of state under Republican presidents and Chomsky one of the leading leftwing intellectuals in the United States – and have frequently clashed. But when it comes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both recently advocated for Ukraine to consider a settlement that could see it dropping claim to some land to achieve a quicker peace deal.”

In short, the two stand for the same version of “pacifism” which only works if we neglect the key fact that the war is not about Ukraine but a moment of the brutal attempt to change our entire geopolitical situation. The true target of the war is the dismantlement of the European unity advocated not only by the US conservatives and Russia but also by the European extreme right and left – at this point, in France, Mélenchon meets Le Pen.”

Mélenchon, one hopes to soon to be in quasi-retirement out of the National Assembly, has stated this when his adversary Emmanuel Macron visited Ukraine in May, “I associate myself with his message of solidarity with Ukraine”, declared Mélenchon who “found it good that the President of the Republic publicly and spectacularly recalls which side the French are on, all without exception“. Le Pen too declares, for all her visits to the Russian President, that she is on Ukraine’s side. Both, observers of French politics will know, have backtracked considerably on their anti EU statements of the past, as (in the case of the NUPES alliance) can be seen in detailed press reports ( La Nupes veut-elle sortir de l’Europe, comme l’affirment plusieurs ministres d’Emmanuel Macron ?).

Apart from this claim, it is a huge leap to say that the “entire geopolitical situation” and European Unity is the target for the Russian invasion. Many would begin by examining this, in detail, as a basic framework, before going into geopolitical speculation based on Peter the Great’s exploits, not to mention, Eurasianism.

The Russian leader’s initial aim was to overrun Ukraine and depose its government, ending for good its desire to join the Western defensive alliance Nato. After a month of failures, he abandoned his bid to capture the capital Kyiv and turned his ambitions to Ukraine’s east and south.

Launching the invasion on 24 February he told the Russian people his goal was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine“. His declared aim was to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government. Another objective was soon added: ensuring Ukraine’s neutral status .

Many of us will thoroughly dislike Žižek’s late in the day hectoring – and I hope nobody is going to say this Blog has been shy about criticising those who fail to stand with Ukraine.

Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine. To be a leftist who “shows understanding” for Russia is like to be one of those leftists who, before Germany attacked the Soviet Union, took seriously German “anti-imperialist” rhetoric directed at the UK and advocated neutrality in the war of Germany against France and the UK.

From the rightist standpoint, Ukraine fights for European values against the non-European authoritarians; from the leftist standpoint, Ukraine fights for global freedom, inclusive of the freedom of Russians themselves. That’s why the heart of every true Russian patriot beats for Ukraine.

Let us recall Žižek’s own words in April, “Vladimir Putin’s war engine is being sustained not just by European payments for Russian oil and gas but also by a complicit class of “lumpen-bourgeoisie” motivated solely by the trappings of material wealth. Ukrainians, and everyone else, are learning the hard way how global capitalism trumps democracy and human rights.” War in a World that Stands for Nothing.

So what “values” does NATO, surely something to do with “global capitalism”, have that marks the divide he wishes to make on the left? What on earth is he rabbiting on about when he says, “we need a stronger Nato – but not as a prolongation of the US politics.” “There are only two ways for Europe to step out of this place: to play the game of neutrality – a short-cut to catastrophe – or to become an autonomous agent. ” Does the Lacanian philosopher think that all this is happening as a  “symbolic register” in which he can parade any amount of concepts about the Other (Russia) and declare what he likes about European politics as if he were a strategist at the helm of decision-making about what a range of countries do in relation to NATO and Ukraine?  What, if not an unobtainable object of desire (‘objet petit‘), would such a perspective, mixing a critique of “global capitalism”, NATO, and a new “autonomous agent”?

As the author of numerous books Žižek has got attention for this article. It would be easy to continue into the way in which the erudite philosopher has lost his way when he extends his no doubt considerable authority to speak about war, international relations and NATO. We already have left-wing specialists in such matters, extending their expertise across the planet, and no doubt further, people like Tariq Ali and the above Noam Chomsky who take an opposing view.

A good demolition job, pushing over the flimsy scaffolding, is offered today by the Irish Marxist Blog Žižek and Ukraine. It concludes,

Chomsky has apparently said that Žižek’s views are often too obscure to be communicated usefully to common people.  In this case, while they are frequently confused and confusing, they are also bald statements in support of ‘Ukraine’ and NATO so are very easy to understand.  In this he adds nothing.  For someone with so much to say he ends up saying nothing that hasn’t been said a thousand times before.

A much weaker polemic is offered by Counterpunch: Slavoj Zizek Does His Christopher Hitchens Impression. Ron Jacobs.

The Morning Star publishes this now under a starker title: Zizek nails his colours to the imperialist mast The limelight-hogging philosopher’s conversion to Nato is as opportunistic as it is offensive to the left and anti-war activists in particular, writes RON JACOBS.

On Chomsky, via Jim D, some critiques of Chomsky on Ukraine that are thoroughly intelligible,

Socialist Internationalism and the Ukraine War.

Rohini Hensman.

Artem Chapeye, a socialist who had translated Noam Chomsky’s work into Ukrainian, was aghast at Chomsky’s repetition of Kremlin lies to the effect that the Maidan uprising of 2014 ‘amounted to a coup with US support that… led Russia to annex Crimea, mainly to protect its sole warm-water port and naval base’.48 Syrian Marxist Yassin al-Haj Saleh, who had translated Chomsky’s work into Arabic, was equally critical of Chomsky’s statement that Putin’s intervention in Syria was not imperialist because ‘supporting a government is not imperialism’ – even if that ‘government’ is a dictatorship about to fall to a democratic uprising, and supporting it involves killing 23,000 civilians in six years and getting a port and military bases in return!49 (By that logic, the US intervention in Vietnam was not imperialism, because it was supporting the government of South Vietnam.) Not that Chomsky has any good words to say for Putin or Assad, but his endorsement of the Putin regime’s lies is also a form of support.

And the shoddy scholarship of this eminent scholar when he relies on Kremlin propaganda and ill-informed Western commentators to come to his conclusions rather than the work of much more knowledgeable Syrians, Ukrainians and Russians is indeed disappointing, along with his inability to understand that Putin and Assad can manufacture consent for their monstrous crimes by pouring out a constant stream of lies on their captive media and social media while incarcerating and killing anyone who tells the truth. Most depressing of all is his Orientalist portrayal of non-Western peoples struggling against Putin and his allies as dupes of the West and devoid of all agency.

We now have some answers to the question we started with: how do we overcome divisions among working people resulting from ethnic supremacism and nationalism? First, oppose all imperialisms, because apart from their roots in ethnic supremacism they involve national oppression. Second, support struggles for national independence that are predominantly democratic; more authoritarian ones should receive only critical support provided they represent people of all ethnicities. Ethnic definitions of nationhood should never be supported. On the other hand, a socialist programme has to include the rights of ethnic minorities to full equality before the law and their right to have their own language and culture, as well as local and regional self-government, which is important in any democracy but even more so for enclaves where minorities predominate. If socialists are serious about the interests of working people everywhere, then they have to foreground struggles for democracy, which are also struggles against various forms of discrimination and persecution, and this not only in their own countries but in terms of solidarity with the class struggle of workers of all countries. Finally, in a world where hostility to refugee

Written by Andrew Coates

June 28, 2022 at 12:51 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Then of course there is this…

    Andrew Coates

    June 28, 2022 at 10:34 pm

  2. Embaressment at BBC News channel as Slovenian PM Robert Golob at the NATO says that governments of the Slavic countries have to be careful. While the governments are pro EU on this issue the people sympathize with Russia. For the avoidance of doubt he repeated it.
    Internationally it is clear that the people are with Russia with the Western elites backing a unipolar world and US hegemony.

    Arwyn Thomas

    June 30, 2022 at 11:02 am

    • Well, we all know where you stand, Arwyn. Are you in the pay of Putin or just an unpaid useful idiot?

      Jim Denham

      June 30, 2022 at 2:25 pm

      • Yawn.

        Arwyn Thomas

        June 30, 2022 at 2:31 pm

        • Since you ask (again) I wouldn’t accept a kopek off Putin, but I’ve got Russians redoing my kitchen no questions asked.

          Arwyn Thomas

          June 30, 2022 at 2:57 pm

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