Slavoj Žižek On Political Struggle

Ernesto Laclau has conceptualized . . . the struggle for hegemony.  *** That is to say, class struggle is ultimately the struggle for the meaning of society ‘as such’, the struggle for which of the two classes will impose itself as the stand-in for society ‘as such’, thereby degrading its other into the stand-in for the non-Social (the destruction of, the threat to, society).

“To simplify: Does the masses’ struggle for emancipation pose a threat to civilization as such, since civilization can thrive only in a hierarchical social order?  Or is it that the ruling class is a parasite threatening to drag society into self-destruction, so that the only alternative to socialism is barbarism?”  Slavoj Žižek, Afterword to Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin From 1917 (pp. 209-10).

Boaventura de Sousa Santos – Horizons Needed

“The reactionary project shares with rationalist and dogmatic extremism the notion that Western modernity has created too many human beings and that a distinction between humans and sub-humans is necessary, although it does not think that this should come from technical engineering interventions, whether they entail death or race improvement. It suffices that the inferiors be treated as inferior, whether they be women, black people, indigenous peoples, Muslims. The reactionary project never questions its own privilege and duty to decide who is superior and who is inferior. Humans have a right to have rights; sub-humans should be the object of philanthropy to prevent them from becoming dangerous and to defend them against themselves. They may have some rights, but they certainly must always have more duties than rights.” Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Horizons Needed”

Slavoj Žižek on Populism

Slavoj Žižek from In Defense of Lost Causes (2008):

“Populism is ultimately always sustained by ordinary people’s frustrated exasperation, by a cry of ‘I don’t know what’s going on, I just know I’ve had enough of it! It can’t go on! It must stop!’ — an impatient outburst, a refusal to understand, exasperation at complexity, and the ensuing conviction that there must be somebody responsible for all the mess, which is why an agent who is behind the scenes and explains it all is required.  Therein, in this refusal-to-know, resides the properly fetishistic dimension of populism.” (p. 282)


“for a populist, the cause of the troubles is ultimately never the system as such but the intruder who corrupted it (financial manipulators, not necessarily capitalists, and so on); not a fatal flaw inscribed into the structure as such but an element that doesn’t play its role within the structure properly. For a Marxist, on the contrary (as for a Freudian), the pathological (deviating misbehavior of some elements) is the symptom of the normal, an indicator of what is wrong in the very structure that is threatened with ‘pathological’ outbursts. For Marx, economic crises are the key to understanding the ‘normal’ functioning of capitalism; for Freud, the pathological phenomena such as hysterical outbursts provide the key to the constitution (and hidden antagonisms that sustain the functioning) of a ‘normal’ subject.” (p. 279)


Two contrasting examples of these very principles:

Thomas Frank: “Donald Trump doesn’t really reflect the moral values of middle America. He is a consummate city slicker, a soft-handed, foul-mouthed toff who lives in a 58-story building and has been identified with New York City excess his entire life. But people in rural areas are desperate these days. Many of them chose Trump, despite his vulgarity and his big-city ways, because he promised to make them ‘great again’. *** Why? One of the men present told me you could summarize it with a single word: ‘Hillary!’ “

Kshama Sawant: “Because this is not only about Trump.  It is this predatory system of capitalism, in decline and crisis, that has given rise to Trumpism.”

Francisco Fortuño Bernier & Aaron Jaffe on Feminism

Francisco Fortuño Bernier & Aaron Jaffe:

By declining to confront our anti-egalitarian social structure at its roots, an individualistic, corporate feminism will never transform society. It can only offer a select few the entirely insufficient hope of catching up; of taking their turn; of being represented. The patience of the oppressed is rapidly transformed into a strategy of their oppressor.

Leo Tolstoy – The Kingdom of God Is Within You

Quote from Chapter XII “Conclusion – Repent Ye, For the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand” from The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), by Leo Tolstoy:

“the organization of our society rests, not as people interested in maintaining the present order of things like to imagine, on certain principles of jurisprudence, but on simple brute force, on the murder and torture of men.

“People who own great estates or fortunes, or who receive great revenues drawn from the class who are in want even of necessities, the working class, as well as all those who like merchants, doctors, artists, clerks, learned professors, coachmen, cooks, writers, valets, and barristers, make their living about these rich people, like to believe that the privileges they enjoy are not the result of force, but of absolutely free and just interchange of services, and that their advantages, far from being gained by such punishments and murders as took place in Orel and several parts of Russia this year, and are always taking place all over Europe and America, have no kind of connection with these acts of violence. They like to believe that their privileges exist apart and are the result of free contract among people; and that the violent cruelties perpetrated on the people also exist apart and are the result of some general judicial, political, or economical laws. They try not to see that they all enjoy their privileges as a result of the same fact which forces the peasants who have tended the forest, and who are in the direct need of it for fuel, to give it up to a rich landowner who has taken no part in caring for its growth and has no need of it whatever—the fact, that is, that if they don’t give it up they will be flogged or killed.


“Simply because torture and murder are not employed in every instance of oppression by force, those who enjoy the exclusive privileges of the ruling classes persuade themselves and others that their privileges are not based on torture and murder, but on some mysterious general causes, abstract laws, and so on. Yet one would think it was perfectly clear that if men, who consider it unjust (and all the working classes do consider it so nowadays), still pay the principal part of the produce of their labor away to the capitalist and the landowner, and pay taxes, though they know to what a bad use these taxes are put, they do so not from recognition of abstract laws of which they have never heard, but only because they know they will be beaten and killed if they don’t do so.

“And if there is no need to imprison, beat, and kill men every time the landlord collects his rents, every time those who are in want of bread have to pay a swindling merchant three times its value, every time the factory hand has to be content with a wage less than half of the profit made by the employer, and every time a poor man pays his last ruble in taxes, it is because so many men have been beaten and killed for trying to resist these demands, that the lesson has now been learnt very thoroughly.

“Just as a trained tiger, who does not eat meat put under his nose, and jumps over a stick at the word of command, does not act thus because he likes it, but because he remembers the red-hot irons or the fast with which he was punished every time he did not obey; so men submitting to what is disadvantageous or even ruinous to them, and considered by them as unjust, act thus because they remember what they suffered for resisting it.

“As for those who profit by the privileges gained by previous acts of violence, they often forget and like to forget how these privileges were obtained. But one need only recall the facts of history, not the history of the exploits of different dynasties of rulers, but real history, the history of the oppression of the majority by a small number of men, to see that all the advantages the rich have over the poor are based on nothing but flogging, imprisonment, and murder.

“One need but reflect on the unceasing, persistent struggle of all to better their material position, which is the guiding motive of men of the present day, to be convinced that the advantages of the rich over the poor could never and can never be maintained by anything but force.

“There may be cases of oppression, of violence, and of punishments, though they are rare, the aim of which is not to secure the privileges of the propertied classes. But one may confidently assert that in any society where, for every man living in ease, there are ten exhausted by labor, envious, covetous, and often suffering with their families from direct privation, all the privileges of the rich, all their luxuries and superfluities, are obtained and maintained only by tortures, imprisonment, and murder.”

Loïc Wacquant – On Urban Relegation

Quote from Loïc Wacquant:

“To speak of urban relegation – rather than ‘territories of poverty’ or ‘low-income community,’ for instance – is to insist that the proper object of inquiry is not the place itself and its residents but the multilevel structural processes whereby persons are selected, thrust and maintained in marginal locations, as well as the social webs and cultural forms they subsequently develop therein.  Relegation is a collective activity, not an individual state; a relation (of economic, social and symbolic power) between collectives, not a gradational attribute of persons. It reminds us that, to avoid falling into the false realism of the ordinary and scholarly common sense of the moment, the sociology of marginality must fasten not on vulnerable ‘groups’ (which often exist merely on paper, if that) but on the institutional mechanisms that produce, reproduce and transform the network of positions to which its supposed members are dispatched and attached. And it urges us to remain agnostic as to the particular social and spatial configuration assumed by the resulting district of dispossession.”

“Revisiting Territories of Relegation: Class, Ethnicity and the State in the Making of Advanced Marginality.” Urban Studies Journal, 53, no. 6, December 2015, Symposium (with responses by Janos Ladanyí, Troels Schultz Larsen, Orlando Patterson, and Emma Shaw Crane): 1077-1088.

Hélio Oiticica – Seja marginal, seja herói

“Seja marginal, seja herói”

[“Be an Outlaw, Be a Hero”]

– quote from the famous banner created in 1968 by Hélio Oiticica with an image of Manoel Moreira (nicknamed “Cara de Cavalo” [Horse Face]) after being killed by a paramilitary death squad

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