Slavoj Žižek on ‘Liberal Communism’


You know, from a certain perspective, you could be forgiven for thinking that all is well with the world at present. Bill Gates, formerly one of the most avaricious capitalists on the planet, is giving away his fortune as quickly as he can and is now is already the single greatest benefactor in the history of humanity, spreading his munificence to fight malaria and Aids and to provide education for all those people who so desperately need a chance in life. Bongo off of U2, one of the most famous and admired (although not in my house) global celebrities, a man with an undoubtedly sincere commitment to social justice and equality, has persuaded some of the most powerful corporations on the planet to donate significant portions of their wealth to progressive causes, and furthermore is on such good terms with the our present global overseers that he recently presented his friend George with gifts of an ipod and a Bible, as well as getting his buddy Condoleeza to write about her top ten musical favourites in the edition of the Independent he guest-edited this week.

Is it even conceivable that anyone might have a problem with any of this? The rich and powerful have been converted to social justice and equality, the struggle is over, all that is being asked of us is that we spend spend spend our way to freedom, equality and prosperity!!!

Well, I for one have a bias to confess which is that I cannot fucking stand the Independent; a wretched and desperate attempt to find or create a newspaper readership among those people too clever for the Times but who for some inexplicable reason feel unable to read the Guardian. I find it as gimmicky, dull and inconsequential as a copy of Que! or Metro. But that is just my own probably-at-the-end-of-the-day-a-little-extreme-Richard p.o.v. I do on the other hand love a good read of the London Review of Books, which is where the Wisest Man Alive Today, Slavoj Žižek, recently wrote the following words:

So who are these liberal communists? The usual suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as court-philosophers like Thomas Friedman.

Bill Gates is the icon of what he has called ‘frictionless capitalism’, the post-industrial society and the ‘end of labour’. Software is winning over hardware and the young nerd over the old manager in his black suit. In the new company headquarters, there is little external discipline; former hackers dominate the scene, working long hours, enjoying free drinks in green surroundings. The underlying notion here is that Gates is a subversive marginal hooligan, an ex-hacker, who has taken over and dressed himself up as a respectable chairman.

Liberal communists are pragmatic; they hate a doctrinaire approach. There is no exploited working class today, only concrete problems to be solved: starvation in Africa, the plight of Muslim women, religious fundamentalist violence. When there is a humanitarian crisis in Africa (liberal communists love a humanitarian crisis; it brings out the best in them), instead of engaging in anti-imperialist rhetoric, we should get together and work out the best way of solving the problem, engage people, governments and business in a common enterprise, start moving things instead of relying on centralised state help, approach the crisis in a creative and unconventional way.

Liberal communists do not want to be mere profit-machines: they want their lives to have deeper meaning. They are against old-fashioned religion and for spirituality, for non-confessional meditation (everybody knows that Buddhism foreshadows brain science, that the power of meditation can be measured scientifically). Their motto is social responsibility and gratitude: they are the first to admit that society has been incredibly good to them, allowing them to deploy their talents and amass wealth, so they feel that it is their duty to give something back to society and help people. This beneficence is what makes business success worthwhile.

This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. Remember Andrew Carnegie, who employed a private army to suppress organised labour in his steelworks and then distributed large parts of his wealth for educational, cultural and humanitarian causes, proving that, although a man of steel, he had a heart of gold? In the same way, today’s liberal communists give away with one hand what they grabbed with the other.

According to liberal communist ethics, the ruthless pursuit of profit is counteracted by charity: charity is part of the game, a humanitarian mask hiding the underlying economic exploitation. Developed countries are constantly ‘helping’ undeveloped ones (with aid, credits etc), and so avoiding the key issue: their complicity in and responsibility for the miserable situation of the Third World. As for the opposition between ‘smart’ and ‘non-smart’, outsourcing is the key notion. You export the (necessary) dark side of production – disciplined, hierarchical labour, ecological pollution – to ‘non-smart’ Third World locations (or invisible ones in the First World). The ultimate liberal communist dream is to export the entire working class to invisible Third World sweat shops.

Wow. Slavoj Žižek, ladies and gentlmen: I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce his name, but he certainly knows how to tell ’em.

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