The Death of Stalin

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on March 25, 2018
The Death of Stalin

Screenshot from the film

Among Western films critical of the Soviet Union, Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin” is remarkable, probably one of the best. It is also light years ahead of the usual liberal tripe (like Ivan Passer’s Stalin) in its understanding of Stalinism. Iannucci again demonstrates that organized political horror like Stalinism can be best captured through comedy than through melodrama. Gulags, executions, purges, cultural policing, the ‘Jewish Doctors’ plot, Beria’s rapist streak, the Malenkov-Khrushchev power struggle are all brought out in a humorous vein, to the point of being thoroughly hilarious at the expense of human suffering. Some fainthearted liberals have accused Iannucci of taking a flippant approach to such ‘tragedies’, but ‘tragedy’ assumes that the victims have dignity. Dignity is the first quality to be crushed in totalitarianism, especially of the progressive variety. Only a joke remains.

One insightful-comic scene showed political captives hailing Stalin just prior to being shot. You usually dont have this performance with the victims of fascism. For instance, I doubt if anyone summarily executed at Auschwitz would have shouted “Sieg Heil.” There is always some room for moral heroism under fascism. Stalinism offers no such possibility. The victim could either die for progress or die against progress, as brilliantly captured by Koestler’s novel Darkness at Noon.

Yet despite its moral totalitarianism, the USSR was still an inefficient, imperfect system. Iannucci brings that out in his satire. It is not always historically accurate, but compared to “Darkest Hour”, “The Death of Stalin” is to the point.


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Istvan Meszaros

Posted in General by Karthick RM on October 4, 2017

15-04-20-mc3a9szc3a1ros-o-globoIstvan Meszaros, one of the most important Marxist philosophers of our times, passed away on 1st October. I was introduced to his writing through his “The Work of Sartre: Search for Freedom”, one of the finest theoretical commentaries on Sartre, which I engaged with in my thesis. His prose was dry and often obtuse, but rich with critical insights. This book is also a good example of how to do intellectual history. I had planned to read his “Marx’s Theory of Alienation” earlier this year, but owing to other projects, this was put on the back-burner. I hope to begin that soon in Meszaros’ honor.

In an interview about 2 years back he said “There can be no such thing as “historical inevitability” in the direction of the future. History is open-ended, for the better or worse” and further that “The greatest and most perilous irony of modern history is that the once championed “productive destruction” has become in the descending phase of capital’s systemic development an ever more untenable destructive production, both in the field of commodity production and in the domain of nature, complemented by the ultimate threat of military destruction in defence of the established order. That is why the socialist alternative is not only possible – in the earlier mentioned sense of its historical sustainability – but also necessary, in the interest of humanity’s survival.”

Let us work towards that socialist alternative. Even better, let us properly theorize it.

Rest in Power Istvan Meszaros. See you in communism.

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Excerpt From my Review of Roland Boer’s “Lenin, Religion, and Theology”

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

See full review at Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

“Boer is also quick to point out the loophole of the blind optimism of inevitability that lies in the Christian eschatological narrative, something Lenin was also sensitive to despite his great regard for Lunacharsky. Lenin must be read here as an atheist Christian: Christian, in so far as he inherited the radical tradition of liberation theology, atheist, since he opposed the deification of any material or immaterial category, be it the proletariat or the revolution. The Revolution might be a miracle, one of a touching point between “spontaneity and organization, between the unexpected and the expected” (135), yet, without a professional vanguard – the Jesuits of Communism – no revolutionary movement could capture and retain power.

This book is important at a time when matters of religion, especially Islam, are the hottest topic of debate in Western media. While the extreme Right is happy to portray all followers of that religion as potential terrorists, some sections of the Left treat any criticism of Islam or cultural practices of Muslim communities as Islamophobic. Which is the wrong side here? To use Stalinist rhetoric, both right-wing deviation and left-wing deviation are wrong!”

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Excerpt from my Review of Slavoj Zizek’s “Trouble in Paradise”

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published at The Oxonian Review

This drawing of simple binaries on unqualified distinctions of oppressor and oppressed is precisely what afflicts the Left political spectrum today, especially in Anglophone countries. Of course, the right-wing discourse that every Muslim is a potential terrorist is downright racist. But what does one call the equally problematic response of the multicultural left that any criticism of Islam, or the cultural practices of Muslim communities, is tantamount to Islamophobia? If one can excuse away the Charlie Hebdo massacre by reference to the brutality of French colonialism, then one can also excuse Nazism by reference to the brutal political and economic stipulations laid on Germany post-World War I. There is a monopolization of the discourse on Islam by Islamists and liberal Muslims which is being actively, or passively, assisted by the Western multicultural Left at the cost of those within the so-called “Muslim world” who care little for the Islamic religion, and the real or imagined offences against it, and who are instead working towards radical political struggle and social reform within their communities. This is the “Third” that is being ignored. An honourable exception, Žižek is miles ahead of his leftist peers in his insistence that Islamism is not a legitimate response to, but rather an inherent part of, global capitalism–an illegitimate child.

J’accuse: Charlie Hebdo and the Rank Stupidity of the Infantile Left

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on January 20, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

In the wake of the brutal murders at the office of the French satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo, did you come across any article which read something like the following?

‘While the Hebdo murders are sad (add few token lines of phony sympathy) France has killed many people during colonialism. And it has a history of white racism. Plus, it is also engaged in neo-colonial endeavors. Likewise, Charlie Hebdo is Islamophobic (give few examples). The murderers are just isolated madmen and do not have an ideology. etc etc.’

Well done! You’ve just had a generous dose of infantile leftism! Criticism is reserved only for the West and Israel. Only the Whites and Jews have it in them to be the super-villains of the world. The rest are just innocent suffering victims. And yes, the ‘resistance’ of these ‘victims’ – whatever form it might come in – ought not be criticized. Ironically, this sort of Manichean thinking, that of the bad West vs the poor Rest, is precisely the mirror-image of the Bush doctrine of “either you are with us or against us”.

Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek made an interesting comment about such trends among the left: “For the multiculturalist, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are prohibited, Italians and Irish get a little respect, blacks are good, native Americans are even better. The further away we go, the more they deserve respect. This is a kind of inverted, patronizing respect that puts everyone at a distance.”

The irrational hatred for Whites and Jews (including those from the working class) apart, this is precisely the kind of patronizing respect that the infantile left in Western countries shows towards Islamism. In reality, this left is much like the right, in that it secretly accepts that Muslims are incapable of radical social reform, and hence, becomes a patron of Islamist identity politics. And the bogey it invents to hide its own failures and to shut down legitimate criticisms of Islamism is that of Islamophobia. And the ‘name-and-shame’ campaign this coterie launches against critics – not to mention the real, existential threat posed by Islamic fanatic groups – create a climate where there is self-censorship that writers, intellectuals and comedians impose on themselves. The implicit message seems to be this: criticize Islam, and you are an Islamophobe. Should you be killed, you probably deserved it.

Isn’t that what is also transpiring in Hebdo attack case? Though the magazine was clearly an equal-opportunity offender some on the left have used even this tragic circumstance to paint the institution as ‘Islamophobic’.

I did come across a few nauseating articles but this one by Richard Seymour on a magazine that goes by the name “Jacobin” takes the cake. Let alone a solidarity with the victims – which the writer believes to be “platitudinous” – there is not even a word of condemnation of the terrorists (again, a term which the writer opposes to categorize the killers) who executed this barbaric attack. Instead there is a banal sermon on the possible dangers of Islamophobia, a totally irrelevant anecdote about Thatcher coupled with an inappropriate comparison with the IRA, and accusations at Charlie Hebdo which make it sound as though the magazine invited the attack.

It is precisely this sort of irresponsible justifications of acts of blind terrorism that shrink the already limited political space for progressive activists, representatives of the working class and oppressed nations. And no less a person than Lenin condemned these sort of acts. Seymour asks his readers to check up on Said’s Orientalism (and it is not a wonder that he is disapproving of Zizek). But maybe he should re-read – and try to understand – what Lenin meant when he called terrorist-glorification tendencies an ‘infantile disorder’.

A true leftist would realize that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not merely an attack on a liberal freedom of press – it is an attack of a core Marxist value, namely, the ethical imperative to critically examine every ideology under the sun, and Islam is no special exception. For a leftist to ignore that is imbecility at its worst.

As far Islamist terrorism goes, maybe the Left should remember what Robespierre, the patriarch of modern day revolutionaries, said – “To punish the oppressors of humanity is benevolence; to be benevolent to them is barbarism.” This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.

Islamophilia Cannot Be an Effective Answer to Islamophobia

Posted in International by Karthick RM on December 24, 2014

Originally published on Huffington Post

The recent siege by an Islamist in Sydney has raised all too familiar debates about Islamophobia. The general right-wing argument, of course, is that such acts of terrorism are justified by a hard-core minority of Muslims and that downplaying the role of Islam is potentially harmful. On the other hand, the general liberal-left argument is that expecting all Muslims to condemn such acts is bigoted because a whole community cannot be held accountable for the actions of a few ‘deranged lunatics’.

Central to both arguments is an unstated belief that the Islamic identity is central to all Muslims, and while the former despises it, the latter preaches a patronising tolerance of the same. And both are wrong.

We have to look at Islamophobia as the tendency to blame Muslims as a whole, without any differentiation of nation, culture, class, gender, and political orientation for terrorist acts committed by Islamists.

Likewise, we have to look at Islamophilia as the tendency to exonerate Islam as an ideology from the crimes that are committed in its name, as the belief that the Muslim identity is good in itself and is central to an adherent of the faith.

Reality, if anything, shows the contrary. Proponents of the two sides are unlikely to remember that the first state to declare itself officially atheist in the world happened to be a predominantly ‘Muslim’ country – socialist Albania. Under Enver Hoxha, the state banned religion and religious preaching, shut down mosques, and tried to achieve gender parity in all services. In practice, the ‘Muslim’ Hoxha was the most rabid Islamophobe of the previous century. Incidentally, it was precisely those western governments – who are now accused of harbouring Islamophobia – who railed against Hoxha for curbing religious freedom for Muslims.

Several other examples could be given. The Indonesian Communist Party led insurgency, the Kurdish movement in the middle-east, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (Turkey), the Communist Party of Iran – all militantly secular movements led by ‘Muslims’ – have faced brutal repression from variants of Islamism. It would be a brutal illogic to say that the murder of thousands of individuals from these movements had nothing to do with the Islamic ideology that the states they challenged upheld.

Why is this important? Drawing parallels from other cases, can we say that the Inquisition’s slaughter of tens of thousands of heretics at the stake was just an act committed by a few ‘deranged lunatics’ and that the ideology of the Church had no role to play in it? Can we say that the discrimination against Dalits, the lowest castes in the Hindu hierarchy, owes to a few bad individuals and is not a structural problem in Hinduism? Can we say that war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamils were just acts of bad soldiers and they can be divorced from the genocidal intent of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism?

Similarly, we cannot excuse the Islamic ideology from the terrorism and violence that is committed in its name. There is a lot in political Islam that justifies violence against non-Muslims, sexism and terroristic acts and those Muslims who have been fighting it for long have written the best testimonials. For liberals in the West to ignore this and to engage in downright immature acts, like wearing a hijab to convey solidarity with Muslim women, is tantamount to mocking those progressives in Muslim communities who resist the cultural diktats of political Islam.

A more critical approach to political Islam is needed. Commenting on the Rotherhamchild abuse scandal, which saw the sexual abuse of over a thousand white, mostly working class, children by men of Pakistani-Muslim origin, Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek argued that raising questions about inherent sexism and violence in these communities is neither racist nor Islamophobic. Rather, it is this questioning alone that can guarantee an authentic co-existence.

Liberals and leftists in the West are right to condemn the bigotry of the majority community, but the fundamentalism of the minority community cannot be spared from criticism. If those identifying as left and liberal fail to criticise the dangerous trends of Islamism, the right will step up for the task. That is a future no one wants and political correctness can do little to fight it. Maybe one can start by expressing critical solidarity with those progressive movements from within the Muslim communities that are willing to think beyond narrow religious identities and are willing to challenge the bigotries in Islamic ideology.

The Hero Of Dien Bien Phu: A Short Tribute To General Vo Nguyen Giap

Posted in International by Karthick RM on October 12, 2013

Originally published on Countercurrents

“Successes send weak souls to sleep; they spur strong souls on.”
-Maximilien Robespierre

When a band of Vietnamese communists overran a garrison of French Far East Expeditionary Corps in Dien Bien Phu on May 1954, it created shockwaves across the world. It pricked the sensors of military minds in the West, even as it reinforced the thoughts of revolutionaries like Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara that successful guerrilla wars against colonial and neo-colonial forces can be waged. If the brains behind this historical victory were to be sought, it would be this diminutive person called Vo Nguyen Giap.

GiapIt is, I would say, Hegelian irony that General Giap is popularly called ‘Red Napoleon’. Unlike Hegel’s vision of the French leader as the world-soul on a horseback, the Vietnamese General who played crucial roles in campaigns against the Japanese, the French and the Americans cut no grand picture in appearance. A person with a keen desire for social change, witnessing close relatives fall prey to the cruelties of French colonial rule, he joined the resistance movement young. After a brief career as a teacher of history, he began creating it. But this article is not so much about the man’s life as it is about the relevance of his thought.

Giap’s most popular statement is his observation on armed struggle. “Violence is the universal objective law of all thorough national liberation revolutions, of all revolutions which are truly popular in character.” While being a Vietnamese nationalist, Giap was profoundly Universalist in orientation. He did not wax on the particularities of the Vietnamese people, but rather focused on what the superior knowledge of the Leninist revolution of the USSR, and the French and American revolutions before that, could teach the Vietnamese in liberation of their country. And, he believed that “Marxism-Leninism never disowns the history and the great constituent virtues of a nation; on the contrary, it raises these virtues to new heights in the new historical conditions.” The race-gender-sexuality pseudo-radicals of today would, of course, call him a totalitarian, an upholder of metanarratives and whatever.

It was not idealism alone that fuelled Giap, but a cold and pragmatic assessment of the forces at home and the forces abroad. The Vietnamese war against the US was not just won, as some leftists romantically put it, by peasants with pitchforks, but rather by the ability of the Vietnamese leaders to adopt the right military strategy and tactics as according to time, their understanding of the Sino-Soviet relation and receiving help from both powers, and their recognition of the strategic importance of a rear base. As Giap observed in the context of Dien Bien Phu, “a strong rear is always the decisive factor for victory in a revolutionary war.”

The strategic directive of the Vietminh to apply “dynamism, initiative, mobility and rapidity of decision in the face of new situations” was to General Giap a military art “whose characteristic is to defeat material force with moral force, defeat what is strong with what is weak, defeat what is modern with that is primitive, defeat the modern armies of the aggressive imperialists with the people’s patriotism and determination to carry out a thorough revolution.” A down-to-earth realist, he implored revolutionaries to “strike to win, strike only when success is certain, if it is not, then don’t strike.”

Critics of Giap generally pick on the fact that the Vietnamese lost so many in their war of liberation. Many of the obituaries for Giap in the western media have referred to the criticism of Giap’s nemesis, US Army General William Westmoreland, who followed a strategy of attrition (simply called body counts) against the Vietnamese rebels. The good General, with his deep concern for the loss of Vietnamese lives, said of Giap “Now such a disregard for human life may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius. An American commander losing men like that would hardly have lasted more than a few weeks.” Leaving aside the criminal irony in Mr. Westmoreland’s observations, no less a person than Martin van Creveld, a leading military historian and strategist of contemporary times, said emphatically in his book The Changing Face of War that “Cruel as it sounds, history shows that a tenth of the population dying in a protracted struggle is not necessarily too high a price to pay to fend off the yoke of a foreign power”. Indeed, freedom never comes free.

The real tragedy, as far as Vietnam is concerned, is not the atrocities of French or American imperialism. It is rather the 1979 invasion of Vietnam by China; the latter’s response to the former’s deposing of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Though the Chinese got a miserable drubbing at the hand of the Vietnamese, this event raises a lot of questions on both the practical and ethical possibilities of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (SOC). Though ‘Permanent Revolution’ is only an ideological pipedream, the regression of countries that adopted the SOC model into state capitalism – quite brutal in many cases – must compel activists and ideologues on the left to seriously rethink what was wrong in the original theory in the first place.

This is all the more necessary now at a time when ‘revolutions’ and ‘springs’ in the middle-east and elsewhere are simulated by Western powers or have been hijacked by them, at a time when counterinsurgency has become a highly professional academic discipline, at a time when obsessing about identities, ‘lived experiences’ and particularities is an intellectual fashion, and worse, to take from Oscar Wilde who wrote this well over a century ago, at a time when “it is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.”

But even this rethinking, this military art of asking the right questions, requires strategic formulation. We need to know who the enemy is, we need to know on what grounds is his superiority, and we need to know how to pull him into a terrain where we can strike to win. And let us learn from the man who defeated the best military minds at their own game. Comrade Hero of Dien Bien Phu.

*All quotes of General Vo Nguyen Giap have been sourced from “The Military Art of People’s War: Selected Writings of General Vo Nguyen Giap”. Edited and with an introduction by Russell Stetler, published by Monthly Review Press, London, 1970.

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Slavoj Zizek – The Dark Conscience of the 21st Century?

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on September 23, 2013

Originally published on Countercurrents

A conversation with a particularly perceptive liberal friend a few days back turned to the subject of ‘offensive’ jokes and whether the proponents of free speech should really grant the freedom to offend. Ever the politically incorrect, I defended it, citing Zizek. She quickly responded that everyone tolerated Zizek because they knew that he was crazy. After a pause, I asked her “What if Zizek understands the way everyone, the world, functions and that drove him crazy?”

(I had in mind the Joker from Alan Moore’s critically acclaimed graphic novel The Killing Joke who proclaims to the Batman “When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot!”)

Now this is certainly not the first time someone has commented on the Slovenian’s sanity. Intellectual pop star, celebrity, left-fascist, Stalinist, ‘Elvis Presley of Marxism’ are some of the terms used to describe him. Those familiar with his preface to the selected works of Robespierre in Virtue and Terror, his In Defense of Lost Causes, and even better, or worse if you prefer it, his monumental work on Hegel Less than Nothing, will have an idea why he is called the “most dangerous philosopher in the world”.

The last philosopher to earn such accolades, criticism, praise and invectives would be Jean-Paul Sartre. Now, Sartre was a man, to use a clichéd phrase, that all loved to despise. The Catholic Church passed an order in 1948 prohibiting the reading of any of his works. Around the same period, a church of a different kind, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union also banned Sartre’s works, irked over his play Dirty Hands that was critical of the functioning style of the Communists. French nationalists, liberals, structuralists, the initial post-modernists, and many others loathed him. Sartre’s biographer John Gerassi called him “the hated conscience of his century”.

If there is one thing that the several Sartre scholars agree upon it is that his philosophy was a “philosophy of action”. Doesn’t the very idea of conscience presuppose an imperative to act ethically? But then, the temptation to act is precisely what Zizek has been campaigning against. He calls on us to do nothing, step back, and think. Such an opinion would have been anathema to Sartre, who threw his weight behind every cause of the oppressed – and everyone claiming to fight on behalf of the oppressed – that came to his notice.

Yet, towards the end of his eventful life, Sartre admits in an interview to Benny Levy, that while he still believed in the possibility of hope, “I hold to the idea that a man’s life manifests itself as a failure: he doesn’t succeed in what he tries to do. He doesn’t even succeed in thinking what he wants to think, or in feeling what he wants to feel.” But what if the failure of man’s life is that he does what he tries to do, feels what he wants to feel, and thinks what he wants to think BUT refuses to think in any other way for fear of wanting to take responsibility for thinking that way? Isn’t this precisely the problem that Zizek has been systematically hammering at, this willingness to feel and act without contemplation? You think that you think poverty is bad, you choose to buy a coffee from some brand that will send some pennies to a starving kid in Africa, and you feel a sense of elation over having played Good Samaritan. As Peter Verkhovensky, a fascinating nihilist character in Dostoevsky’s The Possessed observes, there is always something fundamentally depraved about charity.

With Zizek, there is no happy grand solution. No confirmation that a utopia of some sort will be possible. No comforting words for the marginalized and the suffering. No feel-good concepts on which the politically correct can fall back on. Heck, in Zizek-speak, the antonym of love is not hate, but tolerance! He is that dark, unforgiving voice that speaks to us on the left, that laughs at our desire to prescribe solutions to problems that we have no clue about, our inability to see the big picture, and our trivial happiness over disorganized outbursts of popular sentiments. Why else would he crack the rape joke about the Mongol warrior and the Russian couple? Only the best comedians awaken us to reality as it really is. Usually, it is black comedy.

To take one from The Dark Knight, Sartre was the hated conscience the 20 th Century needed. Zizek is the dark conscience that the 21 st century deserves. But radicals in the later part of this century will require visiting both personalities once the academic posturing of the politically correct and the banal optimisms of the ‘activist left’ come crashing down eventually.

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Imagining a Superman of the Left

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on June 21, 2013

“Is there a place, in a disoriented world, for a new style of heroism?”
-Alain Badiou

So this is what a culturalist reading of Man of Steel would be like: Ah, the alien, initially feared by the Americans, eventually gets around to loving our way of life, saving our world as we know it, and we accepting and tolerating his difference. The integration into the American dream. Likewise, the Christian symbolism throughout the movie was too obvious to miss. In that one scene, where after a conversation with the image of his father in that spaceship thingy, Superman falls back to the earth cutting a Christ-on-the-cross like image, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to that biblical verse from John 3:16, considered by many to be the essence of Christian theology, “For god so loved the world that he gave his only son and those who believe in him shall not perish but have life eternal.” So there it is, Zack Snyder’s good movie for liberal Christian, multiculturalist consciences.

But what if Superman was an adherent of biblical radicalism? An incarnation of that ‘other’ Jesus Christ, passionately promoted by Slavoj Zizek, the radical who tells his followers that he arrived on earth not to promote peace but to generate upheavals? Or a figure who showed a big intolerant middle-finger to our old way of life and was hell-bent on establishing universal justice and equality even at the cost of sacrificing narrow particularities, political correctness and pluralisms? Simply put, could we imagine a Superman of the Left?

Communist Superman

Communist Superman in Mark Millar’s ‘Red Son’

One can already anticipate what the liberals would say to the idea of a communist Superman – “you already had one. His name was Stalin!” (Doesn’t ‘Stalin’ itself roughly mean ‘Man of Steel’?) Indeed, the idea of communist Superman, when explored by Mark Millar in the DC Elseworlds comic book series titled ‘Red Son’ released in 2003, portrayed him as an accomplice of Stalin and as a crypto-Stalinist. This Superman enforces a communist revolution worldwide against US interests, overrides notions of liberal democracy and ‘free choice’ and quite literally, rules with a steel fist. He is eventually overthrown by American Lex Luthor, who convinces the indestructible man of the inherent falsity of his faith, and heralds an age of global capitalist utopia. It is interesting to note that while it was possible to imagine Superman as a communist superhero, even in an alternate comic universe it has been impossible to think of Batman on the same lines. In ‘Red Son’, Batman plays the role of an anti-revolutionary saboteur, something on the lines of the Contras in Nicaragua.

Why is this? Batman is inherently systemic, a product of and the defender of an inherently problematic system, a Manichean who almost never considers the nuances of what he holds to be as ‘true’. Just like the global hegemons who use rational means for irrational and unattainable ends, Batman too thinks that pumping the profits of his daytime business into the demands of his night-time activity will make his beloved city a better place. A hooded vigilante who cleans up undesirables of the system – this is the picture perfect image of the death squads that operate in several conflict zones in Latin America and South Asia. That dark part of the system which the system knows is there, which the system recognizes as necessary but whose real nature it refuses to acknowledge for fear of the consequences. Fetishist disavowal anyone?

Superman can be read differently. Of course, the ‘mainstream’ portrayal of the guy is problematic. But is a Man of Steel problematic as such? In a subversive (and, in my opinion, rather unfairly criticized) reading of Zack Snyder’s 300, Zizek in his short essay “The True Hollywood Left” reads a foundation for modern egalitarian principles in the “emancipatory core in the Spartan spirit of military discipline”. I think Zizek’s emphasis, and this his critics failed to acknowledge, was not so much on what the Spartan ideal historically was, but on what the Spartan ideal can become. A similar subversive reading and appropriation can be made of Superman too.

Unlike a Batman, a Superman is not a product of the system. He is trans-systemic, or at least has the potential to be so. A Superman’s superhuman strength, endurance and penetrative vision needn’t be seen as physical attributes alone. It very well can be the mental attributes of the Nietzschean Übermensch. (The abuse of Nietzsche’s concept by fascists has been drilled enough by several scholars. I needn’t elaborate that here.) In my reading, Nietzsche’s Übermensch ideal was the one who could be faithful to the following exhortation in The Antichrist:

“Truth has had to be fought for every step of the way, almost everything else dear to our hearts, on which our love and our trust in life depend, has had to be sacrificed to it. Greatness of soul is needed for it: the service of truth is the hardest service. For what does it mean to be honest in intellectual things? That one is stern towards one’s heart, that one despises ‘fine feelings’, that one makes every Yes and No a question of conscience!”

Needless to say, these demands require a ‘superhuman strength, endurance and penetrative vision’ and a trans-systemic perspective that critically observes not only the flaws in the existing system, but also the flaws in the solutions that is thrown about as a panacea to the system. This virtue cannot be over-emphasised at this moment when the Left gets orgasmic at any mass gathering which it perceives to be anti-system, be it the Arab Spring, the OWS, or the recent Gezi Park demonstrations in Turkey. This will sound cynical, but taking from Lenin who warned his fellow communists against conferring a divine status to the revolution by only referring to it with the capital letter R, we need to warn ourselves today against referring to ‘people’ with capital P or ‘humanity’ with capital H. The war has never been between the 1% oppressors in the ruling class and the rest 99%. It has been and will continue to be, if you take as valid the western military doctrine that war is the clash of wills of commanders, between the 1% oppressors and the 0.1% of the theoretically and politically sound from the oppressed over who gets to command the remainder. Hence, the Superman of the Left is not the one who asks in the face of a people’s outburst ‘What now?’ – He asks ‘What tomorrow?’

Back to Badiou, who defines ‘heroism’ in his evocative essay “The Figure of the Soldier” as “the luminous experience, in a concrete situation, of something that assumes its humanity beyond the natural limits of the human animal.” We have to transgress Marx who decried the importance given to Heroes in History and take the side of Hegel and Nietzsche instead. Lest I be accused of heresy by my orthodox Marxist friends, let me add here that even Mao approved of ‘healthy personality cults’. Our ideal of Hero needs to be something more if we are to answer the question raised by Badiou mentioned earlier.

Heroism can be that moment where a people decide that ‘enough is enough and the old way is not liveable anymore’ and act in assorted fashions to achieve their humanity transcending the limits placed by the situation they are in. But Heroes are those who capture this moment, use this sentiment to ensure that any return to the old way is absolutely untenable, making the necessary sacrifice of plurality for a fighting collectivity, particularity of factions for universality of justice, political correctness for political truth. This Hero, humanely inhuman, is the ‘virtuous terrorist’ and his political ancestry can be traced to the Jacobins. This is the Hero, the Superman ideal, which the left desperately needs to imagine at the current conjuncture.

The regime of repression in Turkey, racist fury in ethno-chauvinist states in South Asia, strengthening of economic models of Asian countries that have capitalism without liberalism, the Syrian crisis exacerbated by American intervention, turmoil in African countries seem far away nightmares. The European left, while snickering over the economic crisis in the West, still fails to come up with a viable – more than that, an inspiring alternative to the current system. In that European country where the pinch was felt the most, the Right capitalized where the Left failed. And thus you have the fascist Golden Dawn that seems to be winning support and popularity day by day not just in Greece, but in other countries as well.

There is nothing essentially fascist about Heroes and heroism, and the Hero ideal cannot be abandoned to liberals or fascists. The Left needs its Men and Women of Steel.

If they don’t exist, they should be invented.

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Slavoj Zizek’s Systemic Violence and Structural Genocide Phenomena in Sri Lanka

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on December 5, 2011

Originally published on TamilNet

There have been quite some positions on ‘rights violations’ in Sri Lanka. Among those who recognize that there have been violations of the rights of the Tamils, two general camps can be observed. One are those influenced by liberal human rights discourse, who believe that certain horrific acts were committed in the war, but in a ‘post-war’ scenario, there is an urgent need for ‘reconciliation’, ‘peace-building’ and ‘rehabilitation’.

The understanding of this camp is that state violence happened as a onetime event, there were a few or many excesses in this event, but there is a possibility of a post-event condition within a united framework of a ‘better’ Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the ‘structural genocide’ position contends that horrific violence on the Eelam Tamil body-politics is not a onetime event but is a process, and that it is not an aberration but is inherent to the system of united Sri Lanka.

The theme of structural genocide of the Eelam Tamil nation has been addressed in various articles, editorials and features on TamilNet. In this regard, the study of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek on ‘systemic violence’ provides some valuable theoretical insights.

Prof. Zizek, who is a Marxist and critical theorist, writes in his brilliant book ‘Violence: Six Sideways Reflections’ that systemic violence has to be taken into account if at all one is to make sense of visibly horrifying subjective violence.

Zizek writes that “We’re talking here of the violence inherent in a system: not only direct physical violence but also the more subtle forms of coercion that sustain relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence.”

The thinker seeks to point out that subjective explosions of physical violence, like in the Eelam Tamils’ case what happened in Black July or in Mulli-vaaykkaal, cannot be seen in isolation from the various forms of psychological and symbolic forms of violence that are part and parcel of the system.

For such a system to survive, it needs not just a Weberian ‘monopoly of violence’, it always needs to point out to the subjects it colonizes that it has the will to exercise this violence as and when it deems fit.

So, acts like land grabbing, assaults on villagers by Sinhala army men and settlers, rapes, attacks on student leaders etc. are all required by the system to function smoothly till a point where the colonized Eelam Tamils themselves are psychologically conditioned by the system to become ‘true Sri Lankans’.

The Sri Lankan system’s threats of violence through the physical presence of army men in all Tamil localities, the military checkpoints throughout the occupied areas of Tamil Eelam, intrusion of private spaces and its symbolic violence through the desecration of all symbols of Eelam Tamil resistance and identity serve the purpose of this conditioning.

Writing about such political systems, Zizek argues that, “One of the strategies of totalitarian regimes is to have legal regulations (criminal laws) so severe that, if taken literally, everyone is guilty of something. But then their full enforcement is withdrawn. In this way the regime can appear merciful”.

This is precisely the case in occupied Tamil Eelam where practically every Tamil is a terror suspect under the draconian laws unless proven otherwise, that is, unless he or she is willing to work within the framework set by the oppressor.

The Sri Lankan regime makes itself appear democratic by allowing token elections conducted with the full supervision of the armed forces, symbolically hinting that if the Tamils do not vote for the parties whom it is comfortable in negotiating with then the other alternative is force.

The fact of such functioning namesake elections and kangaroo courts is thrown by Sri Lanka as an argument of its ‘democratic practices’ and to cover up its omnipresent threat of violence against Eelam Tamils.

Much of Zizek’s book is also an intellectual attack on the liberal theorists who promote a depoliticised human rights discourse.

Zizek writes that while they claim to fight subjective violence, such liberals “are the very agents of structural violence which creates the conditions for the explosions of subjective violence.”

Those who followed the Eelam struggle closely will know how certain dubious NGOs and academic institutions minted money out of the misery of the Eelam Tamil people and the propaganda they spread and continue to spread on the possibility of ‘post-conflict reconciliation’ while simultaneously evading the fundamental political question that confronts the Eelam Tamil nation – the right to exercise political self-determination.

The argument of charitable donations by such organizations is cruel in its apparent benevolence in that it requires that the Eelam Tamils be first reduced to a state of penury so that they can intervene and make their lives better.

As Zizek notes, “Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.” Organizations such as these only help providing a system practising structural genocide a good face.

Contrary to what certain Tamil politicians who are manipulated by India and/or western powers and intellectuals on the payroll of ‘donors’ may claim, the Eelam Tamils did not fight for individual human rights or equality.

That is not just a fallacy of missing the wood for the trees, but to actually make a criminal claim that there were ever no trees in a wood that have been razed to the ground.

Any genuine politics must start from the position that Eelam Tamils as a people are unequal, and will continue to be unless they have political power in their hands, in their own state.

It is also imperative to point out Zizek’s message to certain genuine humanitarians in the diaspora who are keen on doing ‘something’, without considering the core politics of what they are dealing with:

“Better to do nothing than to engage in localised acts, the ultimate function of which is to make the system run more smoothly.”

Unless one has the correct perspective of the needs of the Eelam Tamil struggle and the corresponding political will to serve the same in all actions, one will always be engaged in futile actions and be inevitably co-opted by the powers that reign.