[Column] Against solidarity of those in power

Posted on : 2022-07-31 10:08 KST Modified on : 2022-07-31 10:08 KST
Beneath all ideological and geo-political tensions, those in power share the same basic interest in holding onto power
The final scene of “Fight Club”
The final scene of “Fight Club”
Slavoj Žižek
Slavoj Žižek

By Slavoj Žižek, Global Eminent Scholar at Kyung Hee University

We can learn a lot about our global predicament from how, in January 2022, the ending of David Fincher’s classic “Fight Club” was changed for the Chinese video release. In the 1999 original, the nameless narrator (played by Edward Norton) kills off his imagined ideal ego, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), before watching buildings burst into flames in apparent confirmation that his plan to destroy modern civilization is being executed.

The version that went up on China’s largest video streamer stops before the buildings explode; the final action is instead replaced with an English-language title card explaining that the anarchic plot was foiled by the authorities: “The police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.”

One cannot but note the neoconservative tone of this change — it sustains unconditional solidarity with power, even if the power is in this case that of the American state. What should give us pause to think is the weird fact that China, a country which legitimizes itself as a Socialist alternative to Western liberalism, changes the ending of a film which is highly critical of Western liberal society, disqualifying its critical stance as an expression of madness which should be cured in a mental institution.

Why would China do this? There is only one consistent answer.

In mid-October 2019, Chinese media launched an offensive promoting the claim that “demonstrations in Europe and South America are the direct result of Western tolerance of Hong Kong unrest.” In a commentary published in Beijing News, former Chinese diplomat Wang Zhen wrote that “the disastrous impact of a ‘chaotic Hong Kong’ has begun to influence the Western world,” i.e., that demonstrators in Chile and Spain were taking their cues from Hong Kong. Along the same lines, we could read in an editorial in Global Times that “there are many problems in the West and all kinds of undercurrents of dissatisfaction. Many of them will eventually manifest in the way the Hong Kong protests did.”

Communist China discreetly plays on the solidarity of those in power all around the world against the rebellious populace, warning the West not to underestimate the dissatisfaction in their own countries — as if, beneath all ideological and geo-political tensions, they all share the same basic interest in holding onto power.

On June 18, meeting at their first in-person convention since 2018, Texas Republicans approved measures declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” and rebuking Sen. John Cornyn simply for taking part in bipartisan gun talks. They also voted on a platform that declares homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls for Texas schoolchildren “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child,” reported the Texas Tribune.

The first measure declaring that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected” is a clear step in the direction of the (for the time being “cold”) civil war in the US: It delegitimizes the existing political order. If we combine this and other signs that the Republican Party is more than ever controlled by Trump with the Ukraine war fatigue, a dark prospect opens up: What if Trump wins the next election and enforces a pact with Russia, abandoning Ukrainians?

During the Maidan uprising, a telephone call was leaked of US diplomat Victoria Nuland who casually stated, “Fuck the EU!” – a clear signal that the US was pursuing its own goals in Ukraine. Putin has also for years consistently been pursuing the politics of “Fuck Europe!” — of dismantling the united Europe. Putin supported Brexit, Catalonian separatism, le Pen in France, Salvini in Italy, the list goes on. This anti-European axis that unites Putin with a certain trend in US politics is one of the most dangerous elements in today’s politics, and it confronts the African, Asian, and Latin American countries with a difficult dilemma: If they will follow the old anti-European instinct and lean towards Russia, what awaits us is a sad new world.

The Russian side repeats the story (adopted even by some Western leftists) that the Maidan events — a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began on Nov. 21, 2013 with large protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv — were a Nazi putsch against a democratically elected government, carefully orchestrated by the US.

Of course, the events were chaotic, with many different tendencies and foreign interferences. But whatever it was, Maidan was at its most basic an authentic popular revolt. During the uprising, Maidan was a huge protest camp occupied by thousands of protesters and protected by makeshift barricades. It had kitchens, first aid posts and broadcasting facilities, as well as stages for speeches, lectures, debates and performances — as far from a Nazi putsch as you can imagine. All this brings the Maidan events much closer to what went on in Hong Kong, in Istanbul, or during the Arab Spring.

Recall what Putin said on Feb. 21, 2022: After claiming that Ukraine was a Bolshevik creation, he went on that “today the ‘grateful progeny’ has overturned monuments to Lenin in Ukraine. They call it decommunization. You want decommunization? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunization would mean for Ukraine.” And they are showing it now, with their “special military operation.”

Putin’s logic is clear: Ukraine was a Bolshevik (Lenin’s) creation, so a true decommunization means the end of Ukraine. But do not forget also that “decommunization” should be taken here literally: an effort to erase the last traces of the welfare state legacy. Pity the “Leftists” who support Putin’s decommunization of Ukraine! They are to be put into the same series as the 1940 “anti-imperialist” pacifists who claimed that the war is not our war, so we should not fight against the Nazis.

This brings us back to our starting point. For years, Russia and China have been gripped with panic when a popular rebellion explodes somewhere in their domain of influence, and as a rule they interpret it as a plot instigated by the West, as a work of foreign propaganda and agents. China is now at least honest enough to admit that there is a deep dissatisfaction everywhere around the world — the problem is just that it appeals to the solidarity of those in power, on whichever side of the new ideological divide they are. What if we remain faithful to the Leftist tradition and maintain solidarity with those who rebel?

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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