This article in today’s Guardian is typical posturing coffee-shop-radical claptrap from Zizek. How wonderful to be a well-paid, well-respected European critical theorist and have the luxury of saying that all oppressed peoples’ attempts to create a new world - be it in South Africa, Cuba, Zimbabwe, China, Korea, the former Soviet Union, etc - have been worse than useless. How great to be able to totally ignore all objective factors (little things like, errr, IMPERIALISM, the collapse of the USSR, total US geopolitical dominance of the early 1990s, the global rise of neoliberalism, massive droughts, etc) and focus entirely on the subjective factor, ie “how to move further from Mandela without becoming Mugabe”.
He tells us that life is just as bad for black South Africans now as it was under apartheid. Clearly he is not one of those dogmatic people who measures quality of life in terms of food security, housing, or the availability of clean running water, electricity and educational opportunities - all of which are MUCH better now for South Africans (not to say they are perfect, they obviously aren’t).
He says that “the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence and crime”. This is a fundamentally racist point. Before 1994, whites had all the political and civil rights, and only blacks suffered from the extreme levels of insecurity, violence and crime. Now everybody has the political and civil rights, and whites have lost their automatic protection from violence and crime (well, it’s been a violent society ever since the whites turned up!).
"If we merely abolish the market (inclusive of market exploitation) without replacing it with a proper form of the communist organisation of production and exchange, domination returns with a vengeance, and with it direct exploitation." Great. And while we’re at it, how about we build a lovely utopia up in the clouds where the sun is always shining, people dance salsa day and night, and a bowl of marshmallows constitutes a nutritious meal? Socialism is born from capitalism, and it inherits many defects. Overcoming these and moving towards a sane, equal, prosperous society is the work of many generations. Furthermore, socialism is unable to develop freely in the era of imperialism, hence the number one priority being to end (or at least marginalise) imperialism. Tellingly, there’s not a single mention of imperialism in Zizek’s article.
And the parting shot: “We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. Mandela’s universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.” Yeah… because imperialism was totally happy for apartheid to die, yes? The ruling classes of Britain, France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Spain and the US were more than happy for African countries to get their liberation, and that’s why they organised endless ‘civil’ wars, interventions and campaigns of destabilisation?
The fact is that there is still an international campaign of destabilisation against South Africa. SA’s main trading partner is China; it is the only African member of BRICS; it’s a significant military force; it has excellent state relations with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Zambia (unlike in the apartheid days when it was occupying or waging war on those countries); it retains close ties with evil-communist-dictatorship Cuba. There are very few things the US and European ruling classes would like more than to see the ‘Democratic Alliance’ apartheid-nostalgia-brigade come to power in South Africa, and the barrage of ‘left’-sounding critiques of Mandela being printed in the mainstream press is in support of that aim. So the ‘strategy’ of this wonderful Marxist philosopher Zizek is to unite with the right against the not-quite-left-enough. Thanks but no thanks.
"It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.
"The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."
Rest in power to one of the greatest revolutionaries and political strategists of our time, a hero of the ongoing global struggle against apartheid, colonialism, racism and imperialism. May his memory inspire us to struggle harder and live stronger. Tears of joy for a life fully lived.
Some months ago, Owen Jones called on the left “to unite against austerity”. He made a point which is actually fairly sensible:
"At the end of the day, we will always have different strategies and tactics. The most important thing is we all have unity where we can agree on an issue by issue basis … I welcome anyone, whatever strategy they have, as long as we can work together on that common aim which is building a broad coalition against austerity".
I basically agree with that. Whilst my overall politics are a (very) long way from the soft-left liberal types Jones wants to unite with (and indeed is), I think there’s a case for some kind of unity around issues where there’s a common objective and a struggle that could actually be won.
So imagine my surprise when Jones announced he was pulling out of a Stop the War event because one of the other invited speakers was Mother Agnes, a Catholic nun living in Syria, known as an activist for inter-communal peace. His basis for objecting to Mother Agnes was her alleged support for the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad. You know… the guy leading the military/political struggle against a viciously sectarian uprising being fought with direct, proven support from the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan, and backed up with the odd bombing raid from Israel.
So. What happened to unity then, Owen? We’re supposed to unite with every social democratic twerp (including those like Gilbert Achcar who were cheerleaders for the ‘no-fly zone’ on Libya) around the issue of austerity, but, when it comes to putting an end to a cruel imperialist-fuelled conflict that has killed tens of thousands and ruined the lives of millions, there is no question of uniting with those that are on the ground actually trying to put a stop to the war?
What this position boils down to is: unite with anyone and everyone to get a few more crumbs for British workers, but don’t ask about where those crumbs come from. Enjoy your cosy life as an acclaimed London ‘radical’ and don’t worry about how it is funded by imperialism - a system whereby you directly benefit from Britain’s exploitation, plunder and incitement of conflict elsewhere in the world. Lenin had a good term for this phenomenon: social chauvinism.
Incidentally, would Jones have refused to share a platform with Hugo Chávez? Chávez was a much more consistent and vocal supporter of Bashar al-Assad than is Mother Agnes. Somehow I think Jones would have put his ‘principles’ to one side in that particular scenario, given a chance to boost his rep through hangin’ with Hugo.
I can only conclude that Owen Jones is a bit of a fraud and that his appeals for ‘unity’ should not be taken seriously.
What does 11 November mean to you? Obviously nobody wants to celebrate war and the loss of human life, but I think it’s important to recognise that people made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and indeed for the freedom of peoples everywhere. So, on this 38th anniversary of Angolan independence, let us all remember the 300,000 Angolan patriots that paid the ultimate price in the 16-year war against Portuguese rule. Their victory was an inspiration to all those who have suffered under half a millennium of vicious European colonialism. Long live free Angola! Viva MPLA! Death to colonialism!
"Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich — that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the mechanism of capitalist democracy, everywhere, in the ‘petty’ details of the suffrage (residential qualification, exclusion of women, etc), and in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for ‘beggars’!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc etc — on all sides we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor, seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine hundredths, of the bourgeois publicists and politicians are of this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from taking an active part in democracy." - Lenin, 1917
A very similar point to that made by Russell Brand in his Paxman interview :-)
In case anyone was wondering why the Grenadian Revolution had to be overturned by US imperialism… This poster contains the statement of aims of the New Jewel Movement.
Samora Machel and Maurice Bishop, in Grenada on African Liberation Day 1982. (I can’t find this photo elsewhere online, so uploading here. Taken from ‘Words Unchained Language and Revolution in Grenada’ by Chris Searle and Merle Hodge)
"The revolutionaries of Western Europe can afford to offer no patronising ‘advice’ and certainly no working models or examples to their comrades in the Caribbean, Africa or other parts of the struggling world. Our own blatant lack of revolutionary success and as yet inability to forge a unified revolutionary movement is being proved year after year after year, and we need to take strength, stamina and example from those processes elsewhere in the world which, despite appalling pressures, have survived and continue to sustain and develop themselves." - Chris Searle, ‘Grenada Morning’
Thirty years ago, Grenada was the victim of a barbaric and illegal US invasion, designed to stamp out every last remnant of the Grenadian Revolution and restore “law and order” in the Caribbean (ie the Monroe Doctrine: total US supremacy of the western hemisphere).
Fidel’s analysis, a few days after the event:
"A thousand lessons in Marxism could not teach us any better the dirty, perfidious and aggressive nature of imperialism than the attack unleashed against Grenada at dawn on October 25 and its later development.
"This cynical way of lying in order to justify invading a tiny country reminds us of the methods Adolf Hitler used during in the years leading up to World War II.
"An air of triumph reigns in the Reagan administration. The echoes of the last shots in Grenada have barely died away and there is talk of intervening in El Salvador, Nicaragua and even Cuba. In the Middle East and Southern Africa imperialism’s acts of interference and military aggression against progressive countries and national liberation movements continue unabated. In Europe, the first of the 572 Pershing and Cruise missiles are already being deployed, surrounding the USSR and other socialist countries with a deadly ring of nuclear weapons that can reach their territories in a matter of minutes. Not just the small countries, but all mankind is threatened. The bells tolling today for Grenada may toll tomorrow for the whole world.
"Imperialism is bent on destroying symbols, because it knows the value of symbols, of examples and of ideas. It wanted to destroy them in Grenada and it wants to destroy them in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Cuba; but symbols, examples and ideas cannot be destroyed. When their enemies think they have destroyed them, what they have actually done is made them multiply. In trying to wipe out the first Christians, the Roman emperors spread Christianity throughout the world. Likewise, all attempts to destroy our ideas will only multiply them. Grenada has already multiplied the Salvadoran, Nicaraguan and Cuban revolutionaries’ patriotic conviction and fighting spirit. It has been proved that the best US troops can be fought and that they are not feared. The imperialists must not ignore the fact that they will encounter fierce resistance wherever they attack a revolutionary people. Let us hope that their Pyrrhic victory in Grenada and their air of triumph don’t go to their heads, leading them to commit serious, irreversible errors."
In summary: build comprehensive unity against imperialism!
RIP to Vo Nguyen Giap, one of the greatest military leaders in history, a true hero and an inspiration to the people of the world struggling against imperialism. This picture is of Hugo Chávez presenting him with a replica sword of Bolívar in 2006.