Slavoj Zizek: Fearing establishment, Sanders’ leftist critics offer socialism, without socialism

Slavoj Zizek
Slavoj Zizek is a cultural philosopher. He’s a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana and Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University.
Slavoj Zizek: Fearing establishment, Sanders’ leftist critics offer socialism, without socialism
What a surprise! After Bernie Sanders announced his bid for the US presidency, attacks on him instantly arose from all sides.

They came not only from President Trump, who referred to him as a "wacko," nor the usual bunch of conservative commentators who proposed dozens of variations on the motif "You want Sanders as president? Look at Venezuela today!"

The smears also came from his more centrist Democratic Party opponents. And reading these barbs, one is immediately overwhelmed by a feeling of deja vu. Because we have lived through this situation before, in the time of the Democratic primaries contested between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Arguably, the Clinton campaign against Sanders reached its lowest point when, campaigning for Hillary, Madeline Albright said: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other!" (Meaning: females voting for Sanders instead of Clinton.)

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Now maybe we should amend this statement: there is a special place in hell for women (and men) who think half a million dead children is an acceptable price for a military intervention that ruins a country (as Albright said in support of the massive bombing of Iraq back in 1996), while wholeheartedly supporting women's rights and gay rights at home.

Is Albright's worldview not infinitely more obscene and lewd than all Trump's sexist banalities? We are not yet there, but we are slowly approaching it.

Strong principles

Liberal attacks on Sanders for his alleged rejection of identity politics returned from the dead again, ignoring that Sanders is doing the exact opposite, insisting on a link between class, race and gender.

One has to support him unconditionally when he rejects identity in itself as a reason to vote for someone: "It is not good enough for somebody to say, I'm a woman, vote for me. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry."

As expected, for this very statement, Sanders was attacked as a white male chauvinist advocating "class reductionism." Indeed, don't be surprised if it will be soon denounced as an expression of toxic masculinity.

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If we disregard straight lies (like the claim, proven false, that the young Sanders did not work with Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggle), the strategy of those who privilege Warren over Sanders is a rather simple one.

First, they claim that the difference between their respective economic programs is minimal and negligible. (One is tempted to add here: yes, minimal, like the fact that Sanders proclaims himself a democratic socialist, while Warren insists she is a capitalist to her bones... It is sad to hear Elisabeth Warren declaring herself a "capitalist to the bones" when even top corporate managers like Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckenberg talk about how capitalism, at least the way it functions now, cannot survive.)

Muddying waters

Then, critics claim that in contrast to Sanders' exclusive focus on economic injustice, Warren also brings in gender and race injustices, so her advantage over Sanders is clear: only Warren can unite a broad progressive front against Trump.

Ultimately, critics of Sanders end up with a kind of electoral affirmative action: Sanders is a man and Warren a woman. Thus, two key facts get obfuscated here: the democratic socialist of Sanders is much more radical than Warren, who remains firmly within the Democratic establishment.

Plus it is simply not true that Sanders ignores racial and gender struggles – he just brings out the link with economic struggle.

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Warren is not, as her defenders claim, a third way between centrist Democrats and Democratic Socialists, the synthesis of what is best in race/gender identity politics and in the struggle for economic justice.

No, she is just Hillary Clinton with a slightly more human face. Even defenders of Warren admit that her claim to Native American roots was a mistake – but was it really just an innocent mistake?

The Cherokee Nation's secretary of state, Chuck Hoskin Jr, responded to the test showing Warren was between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American: "A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person's ancestors were indigenous to North or South America."

Hoskin was right, and what one should add is that to prove that you have a little bit of exotic ancestry is to legitimize your popular roots – it has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual fight against racism.

However, the main point is that Warren applied for a "progressive" cause, using the same procedure that the Nazis applied to identify those with suspected Jewish blood.

On today's market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol, and the list goes on.

What about virtual sex as sex without sex and what about the contemporary politics – the art of expert administration – as politics without politics? Do "Leftist" Democrats attacking Sanders not offer something similar – socialism without socialism, deprived of the features that make it a threat to the establishment?

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